ATHENS, Ga. — Funny how Malcolm Mitchell knows a lot more about Champ Bailey these days.
Mitchell burst on the Southeastern Conference scene last year as a freshman receiver who led Georgia with 60.5 yards a contest. Now he is practicing at cornerback, where he will start out this season before morphing into the program's most notable two-way player since Bailey in 1998.
"I hear about Champ Bailey a lot now," Mitchell said. "I didn't hear much about him before. I knew he was a great player and everything, but the level in which I hear about him now is a lot different."
Bailey is widely viewed as Georgia's most versatile player since the inception of two-platoon football, logging more than 1,000 plays on offense, defense and special teams during Georgia's 8-3 regular season in '98. The All-American tallied more than 100 plays in seven games and amassed 744 receiving yards, 52 tackles and three interceptions.
Mitchell won't be getting 100 plays a game any time soon, but coach Mark Richt said he could be in for 60 plays during the first couple of games before getting to 70 or 80 when the weather cools. Richt said Saturday that Mitchell could be in the defensive and offensive game plans for the Sept.1 opener with Buffalo.
"That's a lot of opportunity," Mitchell said. "Some people don't play 80 plays in two games, and I may get to do it in one? That's a lot of opportunity and a lot of chances to make something happen."
In his college debut, the 6-foot-1, 184-pounder from Valdosta caught a 51-yard touchdown pass in a loss to Boise State. He had 126 yards on three receptions in a win over Tennessee, reeled off a 20-yard run in a win over Georgia Tech and had a career-high seven receptions in the triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
Opportunity knocked on the defensive side of the ball in January when starting cornerback Sanders Commings was arrested on a domestic violence charge and was suspended for the first two games. Mitchell played receiver and cornerback at Valdosta High and was Rivals.com's No. 1 cornerback in the 2011 class.
"Last year he learned the offense, and he didn't show up until the summer," Richt said. "This year he spent the whole spring with the defense, and he's got a summer and fall. He'll remember a large percentage of what he was doing offensively, so he won't have any trouble there."
The biggest concern with Mitchell to this point has been a pulled hamstring suffered last season at Tennessee, which caused him to sit out three games, and again this spring, which caused him to miss the G-Day scrimmage.
That Mitchell could contribute significantly on both sides of the ball is beginning to settle in with his teammates. Senior receiver Tavarres King needed a 205-yard performance in the Outback Bowl to surpass Mitchell as Georgia's leading receiver last season in yardage, and he quickly admits he couldn't do what Mitchell is attempting.
"It doesn't just say that he's a special player," King said. "I feel like it says he's a special person. It shows a lot about his character that he can take that role."
Mitchell said his biggest challenges in practice occur when guarding King or Marlon Brown, who is 6-5 and 222 pounds. Holding his own against the bigger bodies will be paramount, because the Bulldogs visit Missouri and 6-6, 220-pound touted freshman Dorial Green-Beckham in the second game.
Then there is the last Saturday in September, when Tennessee's sizable receiving trio of Justin Hunter (6-4, 200), Da'Rick Rogers (6-3, 206) and Cordarrelle Patterson (6-3, 205) arrives.
"I'm just ready to have it all unfold and see what happens," Mitchell said.
Odds and ends
Richt announced Saturday that senior cornerback Branden Smith will not be suspended for his arrest in March for marijuana possession. Smith said he came back from the incident in Alabama and took a drug test, which came back negative. ... Richt said Ken Malcome and Richard Samuel are ahead of freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley but that the four tailbacks are sharing first- and second-team reps.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...