Being Champ Bailey is easier said than done.
Georgia sophomore Malcolm Mitchell has played cornerback and receiver during the first half of the season, and he has returned punts and kickoffs as well. His versatility drew comparisons in preseason camp to Bailey, who performed the same four roles in earning All-America honors for the Bulldogs in 1998, but such talk has ceased.
"It's very tough, and I understand now," Mitchell said after Saturday night's 35-7 loss at South Carolina. "A lot of people wished for it, but they don't know what they were asking for."
Mitchell missed the opener against Buffalo with a sprained ankle and has since made nine catches for 126 yards, 12 tackles and a fumble recovery. Those two-way numbers are paling to the 744 receiving yards, 52 tackles and three interceptions Bailey amassed in '98, and then there is the special-teams disappointment.
After fumbling a punt at Missouri, fielding a punt inside his 5-yard line against Vanderbilt and allowing a punt to roll to the 1 against Tennessee, Mitchell had that duty given to Rhett McGowan last week.
"This is supposed to be fun, but sometimes it can get a little frustrating," Mitchell said.
It hasn't been all bad for the 6-foot-3, 204-pounder from Valdosta, Ga., who accounted for the two biggest gains in last week's loss. Mitchell had a 48-yard kickoff return after the Gamecocks had taken a 7-0 lead, and his 27-yard reception in the second quarter gave the Bulldogs a first-and-goal at the 4.
Georgia couldn't capitalize after either play, but Mitchell does appear to be gaining steam as a receiver with seven catches for 83 yards the past two games. Mitchell was mostly a cornerback against Missouri, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt, when the Bulldogs were dealing with suspensions in the secondary, and has played receiver the last two weeks.
Mitchell led Georgia last season as a freshman with 60.5 receiving yards a game.
"He didn't really do a lot when he came back over because he didn't quite understand everything we were doing, and then we were no-huddling with signals and stuff like that," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He's getting better, and he's going to be better next week and then better the next. Is he where he was last year? No, but eventually he will be better."
Last week's season-ending injury to leading receiver Michael Bennett may have shaped Mitchell's role the rest of the way.
"He practiced about 80 to 90 percent on offense last week," head coach Mark Richt said. "His main goal on defense last week was to make sure that he understood what to do and was able to be used if needed in case of some type of injury in the secondary. I don't know exactly how we'll do it, but I wouldn't be surprised if we decide to continue to get him just enough practice on defense to make sure that he could get in there and function for us."
Such clarity will be appreciated.
"It's not good that it's like this halfway through, so we need to figure it out," Mitchell said. "I feel like I'm better at receiver than I was a year ago from a mental standpoint. I know how to make decisions based on what I saw last year. It's not like the knowledge left. It just got slowed down.
"We'll keep pushing forward and see what happens."
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs worked out Tuesday for an hour, with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (ankle) sitting out. ... Bennett underwent surgery Tuesday for his torn ACL. ... The Bulldogs have lost their last four games against top-10 teams by the average score of 40-17. ... After averaging 55.5 yards in his first four games, former Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell has rushed for 276 yards the past two weeks for Alabama State.
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 ...