Thursday, February 9, 2012

Malcolm Mitchell - the next Champ Bailey?

So on Saturday I dumped something in your lap. It was my combined response to last Wednesday's signees (more specifically that we only signed one defensive back) and Friday's news that we dismissed three players (two of which were defensive backs). My question was whether or not we see Malcolm Mitchell in the secondary this spring. To further the discussion I decided to look back at one of Georgia's most successful "two way" threats - Champ Bailey.

I did this for one main reason. I kept hearing and reading an argument against Mitchell playing defensive back that centered on his value as a receiving threat. I get that. But some have gone so far as to say that the wide receiver position is just as thin as defensive back. Again, a notion I thought I had put to rest in Saturday's post. The future at secondary is rail thin compared to receiver.

But putting that argument aside, why can't we have it both ways? Therefore, enter Champ. Unfortunately, stats from way back in the late 1990s were more difficult to come by than expected, but here's what I found:
In 1997-98, Champ's last two seasons in Athens, he had 70 offensive touches: 19 carries for 93 yards, 50 receptions for 817 yards and one incomplete pass in addition to 23 career kick returns for 511 yards. He was third on the team in scoring with 6 touchdowns and was easily our biggest offensive threat outside of Olandis Gary.
Mostly modest numbers for sure. However what makes him so revered among Georgia fans is the fact that he did all that while holding down a corner position. Quite well I might add. For most of three seasons he locked down the opponents' biggest receiving threat and took away an entire side of the field from their quarterback. The fact that he finished his career at UGA with a single digit interception mark is no slight on his ability. It's a nod to the fact that the ball was rarely thrown anywhere near his blazing feet.

I've always thought Donnan's staff did a good job of managing Champ's plays as well as bringing him along as a two way player. It's not a task meant for a freshman and it's not a practice meant for a team loaded with talent. From a simple conditioning standpoint a freshman almost always lacks the understanding and the lung capacity to manage enough plays to be a difference maker on one side of the ball, much less two. And if a team has quality depth at a position in the two way player's forte...well, what's the point really?

So what about Mitchell's potential impact as both a wide receiver and a defensive back? Well first, back to Champ. His 70 offensive touches came from 24 games during his sophomore and junior seasons. That averages out to 2.92 touches per game. I don't have total plays to rely on but let's give a moderate guess of 10-15 snaps on offense for Champ, given that there are games that I don't think he even reached 10 and others where he was probably closer to 20 (ref. Wiki 1997-98 seasons). 

Mitchell played in 11 games last season, starting 9 of them. He hauled in 45 catches for 665 yards and had 4 carries for 38 yards. If this "two way experiment" were to commence this spring we wouldn't need Mitchell for anything more than a nickel back during the 2012 season, barring any injuries. 

So...isn't it reasonable to expect him to still be able to put up comparable offensive numbers while playing mostly situational defensive sets? You know, much in the way that Champ did his thing on defense and then played in situational offensive sets.

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