Only one week after earning the SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor, cornerback Damian Swann finds himself yet again a veteran of a highly criticized Georgia defense.
A tumultuous 2013 season groomed Swann to become not just a leader in the secondary, but a leader of the defensive unit as a whole.
“I know a lot of people know what type of player that I was and that I can be,” Swann said of his difficult junior season. “I didn’t really get down on myself, I just had to go back to work. That’s why when it came down to draft grades and draft papers, I wasn’t really worrying about that.”
Last season was none to kind to the Bulldogs, particularly Swann. He recorded 57 tackles, zero sacks, interceptions or forced fumbles and struggled through Georgia’s 13 games.
The past seven games of the 2014 season, though, have been different for Swann, who already has 40 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles (he missed the Troy game with a concussion). Before Saturday’s game in Jacksonville, coach Mark Richt praised the senior’s growth from one year to the next.
“He’s been a great leader for us, Richt said. “He has some productive numbers. … I think he has a chance to be an All-SEC performer this year.”
Swann started all seven games this season in which he appeared, in large part because new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s creative defensive packages have allowed him to shine in other positions on the field.
“I’ve received the coaching to put me in those spots, to help me better as a player fundamentally,” Swann said. “I give a lot of credit to Coach Pruitt, with allowing me to play those different spots and do those different things, not just being out on the island all day trying to cover. I can blitz. I’m blitzing off the edge, I’m blitzing off the middle, I’m guarding tight ends, I’m guarding receivers. It’s just so much to what he’s done with creating packages to where I can do those different things.”
Just as Pruitt’s players began gaining confidence and trust in each other, the team took the disastrous trip to Jacksonville.
“Four hundred yards rushing, 27 passing, that’s not good at all,” Swann said after the No. 17 Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC) fell to the Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) on Saturday. “We know how good we can be. We know what we have to do. It’s just once you get in those types of games, once the momentum swings, it’s hard to get it back and we were never able to get it back.”
But it was not Swann, a captain against the Gators, and the secondary that Florida exploited. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris only threw the ball six times, and Swann was left chasing rushers primarily from the star position for a total of only four tackles. Swann has the fifth-most tackles on the team this season and the most of any member of the secondary.
Linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Leonard Floyd commented more than a week ago about the lack of trust for their teammates in the secondary on passing plays last season.
“Last year we already knew it was going to happen on third down,” Herrera said humorously. “Like, ‘Get ready for first down again,’ me and Ramik used to [say] to each other.”
But after Florida’s convincing 38-20 beating of Georgia, members of the Bulldogs’ front seven couldn’t look behind them for someone to blame.