In a season that was desperately reliant on Damian Swann’s success, the junior cornerback has not lived up to the hype.
All the talk at the beginning of the season was about how Swann, the team’s only returning defensive back starter, was going to be the anchor of Georgia’s (4-3, 3-2 SEC) defensive backfield, and lead a group of very young teammates to success.
And why wouldn’t that be the consensus?
The Atlanta native was coming off a season where he earned 53 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses and four interceptions. Swann was named the team’s most improved player at the conclusion of spring practice, and his 2012 season was impressive enough to earn himself Preseason Media Days All-Second Team recognition.
Fast-forward a few months and all his past success is forgotten.
It seems as if Swann has gotten picked on more than any other defensive back this season — something that rarely happened in seasons past.
“Damian, I’d say, is struggling right now. He’s missed some tackles in the open field, and he’s gotten beat on some coverages that have been tough on him,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “There have been some things that he has struggled with, but he’s also made plays for us, as well. I think if you asked him, he’d tell you that he wants to perform better and he’s working towards that.”
“You know I’ve been struggling," Swann said. "I admit to my struggles and I think that just comes with the nature of the game. I’m just getting my feet back.”
It’s not just Swann who has been struggling, but the entire Bulldogs’ pass defense.
Swann is responsible for being the leader of the defensive backs, which features two freshmen and an unproven junior, but, despite his struggles, he still believes he is setting a great example for his inexperienced squad.
“I think I’m setting a great example to come out here and struggle and still compete,” Swann said. “I’m letting these guys know defensive back is one of the hardest positions, if not the hardest position to play. Guys are learning that and I just tell them all the time you’re going to get beat you just have to bounce back.”
Georgia ranks 93rd in the nation in passing defense, giving up 253.4 passing yards per game, and 91st nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 42.16 percent of the time.
Due to the inexperience of the defensive backs, Swann is responsible for making sure everyone is on the same page and minimizing miscommunication. This was never a problem last season when he was playing in front of current NFL, and former Georgia safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo.
“I was playing with a bunch of veterans and a bunch of guys that played a lot of football here at Georgia,” Swann said. “We didn’t have too many of those problems on the back end.”
“I think anytime you have a Rambo or Shawn [Williams] that’s on your side it’s like anything, if I have one or two seconds longer to understand leverage or what we’re going to do sometimes that can let you play the play a little bit better,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
The game became more challenging for Swann following the departure of his two veteran teammates because when he got beat either safety was often there to bail him out.
This year, all the blame for touchdowns has gone to Swann when he gets beat, but it may be unwarranted.
“Sometimes it’s not his fault when some of those touchdowns happen,” junior inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “He makes plays. You just see some touchdowns getting scored. When you see touchdowns getting scored that’s the only thing you’re going to judge by.”
In fact, statistically Swann is having a better season through seven games than he did last year.
This season Swann has collected 36 tackles — though tackles can be a misleading statistic for cornerbacks, who record many tackles after allowing a reception — and five pass breakups to last year’s 35 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception after seven games last year.
Although Swann is yet to create a turnover, he did most of his damage in the second half of last season, collecting three interceptions and three pass breakups in Georgia’s last seven games.
He has already started his second half improvement coming off a game where he collected season-high 10 tackles alongside two pass breakups — although he also lost a fumble on a punt return — and he expects it to continue as the Bulldogs roll in Florida in two weeks.
“I’m getting back into it and I think it’s going to be great from now on,” he said.