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 nations top freshman receiver? Will those national title hopes be sunk?
And into this morass of dread steps Damian Swann.
Its put me in a position where Ive gotta step up, said Swann, who will be a sophomore in the fall. With those guys being out, wherever theyre going to be, its going to be opportunity. And Ive 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 Smiths punishment has yet to be announced after a marijuana arrest during spring break.
Star receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who is Swanns 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 isnt 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 Missouris Dorial Green-Beckham, the nations 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. Thats how youve gotta look at it if you wanna be one of the best guys.
Oh, Im looking forward to it. Thats how you make a name for yourself, going against top guys that everybodys 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 hes smaller and faster. Commings has been the teams 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 hes very athletic and got great coverage skills. Hes learning that nickel position, and youve 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, hes able to answer it.
Hes pretty in tune with what were doing, defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said. Hes doing a good job.
This spring, Swann is still working at the nickel cornerback spot, with Commings and Smith retaining their first-team status. Thats because the defensive coaches dont 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 Georgias hopes this season depend on him preventing the pass defense from being a weakness.
Yes sir. Youve gotta be ready for when stuff like that happens, he said. I feel like preparing in the spring, its gonna help me to be better, and its gonna help Georgia.