August 2, 2011

'Time won't be wasted.'

Tony Ball's plans for his wide receivers at the start of preseason drills Thursday is not unlike any other position on the Georgia football team.

Time won't be wasted.

"We've got to hit the ground running," Ball said Tuesday morning during a sit-down with beat writers at the Butts-Mehre Building.

After all, with A.J. Green and Kris Durham now earning a living in the NFL, there are plenty of available reps to be had and Ball is anxious to see exactly what he's got on hand.

"In the recruiting process we told them that redshirting is not the thought process. We're going to feed them and we're going to feed them as much as they can handle and we're going to see what that is," Ball said. "We're going to see when you hit the wall - if you hit the wall - then we'll see how much you can handle. Physically, how well can you handle yourself? Those are factors that we talk about, but the idea is to feed them and get them ready to play."

Like many of Georgia's current players, Ball has heard the buzz surrounding incoming freshman Malcolm Mitchell.

Mitchell, who as a senior at Valdosta High caught a school-record 77 passes for 1,419 yards and seven touchdowns, has easily been Georgia's most impressive newcomer, if you believe the bouquets being tossed his way by teammates over the past two weeks.

"The players seem to be excited about him. He and I have talked on a number of occasions. He seems very comfortable, being away from home. He seems to have made that transition which is the first thing that has to happen. You don't really know how quickly someone will come into their own and perform the way you hope they will or the way you saw them perform in high school until you see them make that transition," Ball said. "He seems to have done that and as far as his playing time, or how quickly do you get him into the rotation, I think that's going to be a day-to-day process. But what I will say to you I'm really impressed with his maturity, his intelligence, his ability to communicate. He's a very confident young man. You can see that when you talk with him. He's certainly a very talented young man.

Ball added it there was never any doubt during the recruiting process that Mitchell would not make some kind of impact should he sign with the Bulldogs.

Oddly enough, offense didn't figure to be his home.
As the nation's top-ranked cornerback according to Rivals.com, Mitchell's heart was set on playing defense.

"I can recall the first time I ever saw him, saw some of his highlights. We were watching him as an offensive and defensive staff and I was sitting, being quiet and thinking to myself 'I'd like to have this ole boy on offense,'" Ball said. "But throughout the recruiting process I never ever spoke to him about offense because at that time, if you were following him, he was a defensive back and that's what he wanted to do, so I never said anything to him throughout the recruiting process, but I kept hoping to myself that he would see the light. He saw the light. We were fortunate to get him on offense and we're happy to have him."

According to Ball, it wasn't until Signing Day that Mitchell let it be known that offense would be just fine with him.

"I was told he wanted to play defense, but I said he was talented enough to play both ways, Ball said. "But there was not a whole lot of discussion, because at the time it was about what he wanted to do, where could he make the biggest impact. So that was his choice so we recruited him as he wanted to be recruited. He had an outstanding senior year at wide receiver and he grew a greater love for the position so here we are."

Mitchell will start out at the X-position (flanker), but hopes the young receiver can learn to line up anywhere on the field ala junior Tavarres King.

"It's an advantage having someone with his (King's) experience. It's a huge plus, that's what it is all about," Ball said. "As I answered the question about Malcolm, I want him to learn concepts so he can play; whether it be the flanker or the split end, so if he can play and we feel he's the next best guy, where do you put him? To have TK with that type of experience is certainly an advantage for us and to this group."

Ball addressed the rest of Georgia's wideouts during his 20-minute session with reporters.

Justin Scott-Wesley: "The game is more advanced at this level, that's the biggest transition for him, No. 1. The next transition is everybody is going to be fast. What he has to do now is learn how to utilize his speed best to his advantage and play the game at this level when everybody is fast."

Chris Conley: "What I was most impressed about him is that he's a focused young man. But more importantly he showed some toughness. He had a lot of information thrown at him through the spring and we weren't going as fast as we will now, but he had a lot of information thrown at him. He was asked to play multiple positions and midway through the spring he was willing to play multiple positions.
"But what I was most impressed of was with all the information that was thrown at him, and the fundamental things he was asked to do, that kid never flinched. That's what I love about him; that's toughness."

Sanford Seay: "He was a guy, he flew under the radar because of academic issues, but he obviously had some talent in order for us to have him here. He's a good-sized receiver, with speed, played in an offense where they threw the ball quite a bit so he does have some conceptual idea of the passing game. He has very good ball skills; so he's had that experience so you hope that experiment transitions into him getting on the field here sooner than later is what you hope."

Marlon Brown: "He's got to get better. He's got to push himself fundamentally. He's got to push himself fundamentally and if he does that he will take that next step."

Rantavious Wooten: "Same thing. He's got to push himself fundamentally but he's also got to push himself mentally altogether and get mentally tougher."

Ball went on to explain why some players like Wooten have trouble developing as quickly as coaches might like.

"Because they've never been challenged - they've never had to. That or you were never pushed - whether its from your peers or your coaches because he was so much more talented than most kids," Ball said. "You get on this level you're competing against guys in your room who are talented and in some case may be faster, bigger and then you're competing against defensive backs who may be the most talented people on the field in this league, so now you've got to compete.
"As you get older the game gets more sophisticated, it gets smarter, it gets faster so you've got to get better, keep pushing yourself. You've got to push yourself to another level every day and that's what he's got to do. That's what we all have to do. We've got to push each other to a different level every day."

Other players - like redshirt freshmen Michael Bennett - have had to fight and scratch to get to where they are.

"I can say from the spring that Michael showed some toughness, his ability to learn and his passion for the position. He wants to learn; he wants to be good and he demonstrated that this spring. That's what I like about him," Ball said. " "He knows that the job is there. It's his to go get it. I'll say this about Michael - he earned a scholarship here at Georgia by coming to mini-camp and competing. That's what I wanted to see and Coach (Mark) Richt - we all felt the same way - let's get him here and let him come here and compete. I'll tell you now, I bet I ran him … every other route he was running and I ran him against some of the best guys. Not one time did he flinch. Not one time. So he's got that toughness about him."

Like King, Ball hopes the experience of Israel Troupe will help get the senior on the field.

"Troupe knows this offense and he can play any role we ask him to play. That's one role he can play is because he has that experience, we can plug him in at any position and he'll be able to help us," Ball said. "That's how he has to see his role at this time, so let's build on it and work each and every day to get better and puts himself into position to get more reps or becomes a starter. That's what he's got to got to do."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.