High praise for Malcolm Mitchell at cornerback

semerson@macon.comAugust 3, 2012 

ATHENS -- This much is settled: Malcolm Mitchell will play cornerback to start this season for the Georgia football team. This much, however, is unsettled: How good of a cornerback is he?

Shawn Williams, a safety who is candid to a fault, therefore provides some insight on that front. He compares Mitchell to Morris Claiborne.

Yes, the same Claiborne who was an All-American for LSU last year and was the sixth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

“Because he’s big, he’s physical, he has those long arms, and he’s really fast. You can’t run by him,” Williams said. “And he’s gonna be sitting there at the line and pressuring you all day. So he’s a real good corner.”

Williams stopped himself.

“He can be a really good corner,” he said.

Just how good will have a huge effect on Georgia’s season.

Comparisons to Claiborne aside, the expectations aren’t really that high for Mitchell, especially since he hasn’t played cornerback since high school, two years ago. But two days into preseason practice, it is clear that wherever Mitchell plays, the Bulldogs expect him to be a star. They believe he can be as good at cornerback as he was last year at receiver, when he would have led the team in every receiving stat if not for missing four games with a hamstring injury.

“He has a lot of great tools to be a great cornerback,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He has the same type of tools that usually equates into being a great receiver as well.”

Mitchell’s path to this point has been well-documented. The short version: He played both ways in high school at Valdosta, was recruited by Georgia as a cornerback, then decided on National Signing Day he wanted to play a receiver. He starred there last year, but when Georgia’s secondary was racked by off-field issues, leaving both projected starters likely suspended, the switch was made.

Behind the scenes, there eventually will be a big tug-of-war between the offensive and defensive coaches for Mitchell’s services. That should come after cornerback Sanders Commings’ two-game suspension is over.

Publicly, everyone is saying the right things. Coaches say they will defer to whatever is best for the team, and offensive players say they will make do.

“Obviously I want to be selfish and have him all to myself,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “But the coaches are going to do what they feel is best for the team and what they need that week. I know he’s very excited about playing both ways and doing whatever he can to help us win.”

And Mitchell, of course, wants to play practically every play on both sides of the ball. He was asked this week if he would have to pick cornerback or receiver at some point.

“Hopefully not, until later on down, a couple years from now,” he said.

Mitchell laughed.

“But hopefully I’ll be able to do both,” he said. “If I don’t, that it’ll still be fine. It don’t matter to me. As long as we’re out there having fun, winning games.”

It is indeed a pleasant problem for Georgia to have. At some point, however, a choice will have to be made.

It almost would be easier if Mitchell flopped at cornerback or at least shows that he’s merely the team’s third- or fourth-best corner.

But Williams doesn’t think that is seem likely.

“He has the size over all those guys. Branden (Smith) is real fast, but Malcolm can come up and be more physical than Branden can, because of the size difference,” Williams said. “And he’s faster than (Damian) Swann. That allows him to be more aggressive and gamble a lot more because he does have that catch-up speed, in case someone does get on the outside.”

Translation: Mitchell is very good, and it’s going to be hard for the defensive to give him up.

“As long as they need me I’m pretty sure I’ll be over there. And after that we’ll just do what’s best at that point,” Mitchell said. “I expect Sanders to come back and play his spot that he’s been playing for a couple years. I’m stepping in to help. If the coaches feel like they want me to stay there I’ll stay there. For now I’m just stepping in to help.”

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