ATHENS – A quick back-and-forth, lasting only a few seconds, between Damian Swann and Malcolm Mitchell early in spring practice showed how Mitchell’s adjustment to cornerback would be perfected.
Mitchell, who switched from wide receiver to the secondary this offseason, was having trouble with a drill’s technical aspect – where to put his hands on a receiver at the line-of-scrimmage – and Swann jetted over to help him.
“He’s got little things he needs to work on,” Swann said.
Those little things include hand placement, terminology, what to look for, who to key on and when to be where. Playing corner takes more than the athletic edge Mitchell so obviously has, and Swann and backup safety Connor Norman are overseeing the subtle aspects to help their teammate become a complete defensive player.
“He talked about on the first day how the terminology was totally different,” Norman said. “It takes a little while to pick up on that and kind of figure it out. It’s a lot different than playing receiver. I mean, he’s got great instincts though so it looks like it’s coming really naturally to me.”
Mitchell’s own urges sparked this whole experiment. It was supposed to be something different though. He would spend time at corner in the spring, but most likely would log the majority of his snaps on offense during the season.
That was the view in early January after he first met with coach Mark Richt. Then two underclassmen were kicked off the team. Sanders Commings was arrested and suspended two games, followed by Branden Smith’s arrest and impending suspension.
The Mitchell Experiment evolved from a novel idea to something out of necessity.
“I teach him everything I know because push come to shove Malcolm’s probably going to be the guy on the other side for the first couple games,” Swann said. “Everything I know I’m teaching it to him, telling him the small things and make sure he gets it.”
Swann and Mitchell were both members of the 2011 Dream Team recruiting class. Mitchell had his coming out party in 2011 with 665 yards receiving yards and four touchdowns. Swann, meanwhile, started one game and saw spot duty. The offseason turmoil could have made for more publicity for Swann, who is now the No. 1 corner on the roster for at least the first game or two of the season. Mitchell’s move, however, has dominated the discussion – something that Swann doesn’t seem to feel snubbed over.
“Me and Malcolm have a real good relationship,” he explained. “We spend a lot of time together. We have most of our classes together. At the end of the day both of us have goals and ways to get there.”
Mitchell has spent most of his time at the boundary corner, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham says he could play the nickel slot as well (where Brandon Boykin played for most of last season).
Coincidentally, Grantham says Swann could play nickel, too.
“I think those two guys are really suited for that role,” Grantham said.
For now, Mitchell runs with the No. 2 defense. Norman, a redshirt sophomore who teammates sometimes call a defensive coordinator, plays behind Mitchell at safety with the unit.
“Some of these calls I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Mitchell said. “All the guys help me. I’m going with the twos with Connor. He’s telling me everything. He’s making sure I know what to do.”
Swann himself had thoughts of playing both ways in college and was told by Georgia’s coaches during his recruitment that he could try it out. But playing any offense has been put on hold due to the situation the secondary is in.
“The idea would have to be something like Malcolm’s with going over there for the spring,” Swann said.
And it would require the helping hand of a few willing teammates, too.