There’s one piece of criticism about Georgia football that no one can defend. It’s almost a given that there will be huge questions about one side of the football heading into each and every season. Very rarely do the Bulldogs field a team when they look stacked on both offense and defense.
Last year, we were not sure about the running game and the offensive line, which made the offense the question mark. We knew there was a ton of talent on defense, with many players who were auditioning for the NFL.
Then look what happened. The offense was outstanding, finishing third behind Texas A&M and Alabama in the SEC in scoring offense. The defense, however, was a bit of a disappointment, considering the expectations. It finished sixth in scoring defense and 12th in rush defense.
And now questions still linger on defense, but with a new cast of characters. Seven players on last year’s Georgia defense were drafted by NFL teams in April, with five more signing as undrafted players.
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Damian Swann, a junior cornerback out of Atlanta, is the most experienced player coming back. He started all 14 games last season, and that makes him a leader on the 2013 defense.
“It’s going to be a different look, a different feel for me playing with different faces than what I played with last year,” Swann said when he was in Macon earlier this month for the Pigskin Preview. “But at the same time, I trust in the guys that the coaches recruited. I trust in the guys I went through spring ball with. Once we get everybody acclimated to the system, I think we’ll be fine.”
Swann grew up last year as a football player. He had to, really, as a sophomore starting on a defense made up of a lot of players who were in their final year in Athens. Swann said there was one question he kept asking himself as he played with that talented group.
“What can I learn from these guys to prepare myself to be one of these guys next year?” he said. “Playing with those guys and learning from those guys helped prepare me for this position.”
Swann knows he will be counted on heavily in the secondary, where three new starters must emerge before the team opens up against Clemson on Aug. 31. And when asked about the players around him who must step up, he mentioned a name we’ve heard about a lot since he arrived on campus -- projected starting free safety Tray Matthews, an incoming freshman from Newnan.
“He’s going to be a big key to our secondary, playing back there where (Bacarri) Rambo played at last year,” Swann said. “Tray is going to be one of those guys that we’re going into week one not expecting him to be a true freshman. They’ll call him a true freshman, but we’re going to be looking at him like a guy who has been there for a while.”
The Georgia schedule is tough early on, with South Carolina coming to Athens a week after the Bulldogs start the season in Death Valley against the Tigers. Then later in September, Georgia will host SEC West power LSU. If the defense can just survive September, this team might be in position for another SEC East title.
“I think once we get guys playing in those big games and producing in those big games, winning on the road and protecting our house, and once guys realize how good they can be, we can be just as good if not better than the defense from last year,” Swann said. “Last year a lot of people didn’t know what to expect a lot from our offense, and they had high expectations for the defense. The offense came out and put up tremendous numbers. Now the shoe is on the other foot; I think we’re going to shock a lot of people.”
For Georgia to have a special season, the defense just might have to. We know the offense, with a senior quarterback who is a fourth-year starter (Aaron Murray) and five returning starters on the line will be very good. But defense wins championships, and the untested young defensive players for the Bulldogs will be counted on to do well from the moment the season starts.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.