Georgia’s Swann eager to prove himself

semerson@macon.comApril 2, 2012 

ATHENS -- The disaster of an offseason experienced by the Georgia secondary has led to near panic.

How will the Bulldogs football team survive the first few games without their starters? How will they stop perhaps the nation’s top freshman receiver? Will those national title hopes be sunk?

And into this morass of dread steps Damian Swann.

“It’s put me in a position where I’ve gotta step up,” said Swann, who will be a sophomore in the fall. “With those guys being out, wherever they’re going to be, it’s going to be opportunity. And I’ve gotta do whatever I can until they return.”

By “those guys,” Swann means both of the projected starting cornerbacks for 2012: Sanders Commings is already suspended the first two games following an offseason arrest, and Branden Smith’s punishment has yet to be announced after a marijuana arrest during spring break.

Star receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who is Swann’s roommate and one of his best friends on the team, has been shifted over to defense to help out. But all indications are Swann is first in line.

The good news for the Bulldogs is Swann isn’t some walk-on off the street, or even someone who played offense last year. The former four-star recruit from Atlanta appeared in 11 games last year, starting one, serving as the dime and occasionally nickel cornerback.

It was an understudy role that was supposed to continue for one more year, since Commings and Smith elected to return from their senior years. Instead, Swann could find himself lining up in Week 2 against Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top recruit this year.

Does he feel ready?

“Of course,” Swann said. “I feel like I have the confidence in myself to match up with anybody. That’s how you’ve gotta look at it if you wanna be one of the best guys. …

“Oh, I’m looking forward to it. That’s how you make a name for yourself, going against top guys that everybody’s looking forward to doing something big. And once you show that you can play, hey, your job is done.”

Swann compares more to Smith and the graduated Brandon Boykin because he’s smaller and faster. Commings has been the team’s most physical cornerback for several years. But Swann, listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, has been working on that.

“I think he has put (on) a little more muscle and is becoming more of a physical football player,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He was a little light last year, but he’s very athletic and got great coverage skills. He’s learning that nickel position, and you’ve gotta be able to support the run position from there. And I see some growth there.”

Swann also has experience in the system, which under this defensive staff has become a vital way to see the field. Mitchell said he has been relying on Swann to help him learn Xs and Os.

“He has all the schemes down,” Mitchell said. “Any time I ask a question, he’s able to answer it.”

“He’s pretty in tune with what we’re doing,” defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said. “He’s doing a good job.”

This spring, Swann is still working at the nickel cornerback spot, with Commings and Smith retaining their first-team status. That’s because the defensive coaches don’t want to spend the entire spring preparing just for one or two games.

But come fall, Swann will move into that first-team role, and there will be plenty of focus on him, from Georgia fans and offensive players to coaches at Buffalo and Missouri, the opening two opponents.

Swann was asked if he feels a certain responsibility, knowing much of Georgia’s hopes this season depend on him preventing the pass defense from being a weakness.

“Yes sir. You’ve gotta be ready for when stuff like that happens,” he said. “I feel like preparing in the spring, it’s gonna help me to be better, and it’s gonna help Georgia.”

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