ATHENS – After a quiet freshman season last year, Georgia cornerback Damian Swann is looking forward to making some noise.
A celebrated member of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Super 11 team in high school, Swann played sparingly last season at a well-stocked position. But with the graduation of three-year starter Brandon Boykin and the two-game suspension of senior Sanders Commings, Georgia now needs and expects much from Swann.
“It’s time to get to business,” he said this week.
For the first two games –- the Sept. 1 home opener against Buffalo and the Sept. 8 SEC opener at Missouri – Georgia’s top cornerbacks figure to be, in no particular order: Branden Smith, a senior who started seven games last year; Malcolm Mitchell, a sophomore who moved from wide receiver to defense amid much fanfare in the spring; and Swann.
“When I came in, I was behind some top guys, and I just had to wait my turn,” Swann said. “We lost a key player when Boykin graduated, and I feel those shoes are going to be real big to fill. I feel like I’m going to be that guy to step up and do it.”
Swann gained the attention of coaches and teammates with a strong spring practice that culminated with him being named the defense’s most improved player. By all accounts, that progress has continued through preseason drills.
“I think [Swann] has done a really good job,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said recently. “He’s a guy I think as we move forward can be really good at that position.
“He’s done a good job in the weight room because, to play there, you’ve got to have some physicality to you. He’s added weight [up to about 188 pounds]; he’s physical, and he’s a really smart player who has the instincts to understand where he needs to be based on the release of the wide receivers.”
Swann said he has worked in the nickel-back spot covering the slot in five-defensive-back sets, as well as “the normal cornerback positions.”
“I’m very comfortable being able to play each one and knowing exactly what’s going on [with] the scheme we’re running,” he said. “That comes with playing behind Boykin and having a full spring at it and going through fall camp at it. I’ve been progressing.
“I feel like once I made my presence known in the spring that I was ready to play and wanted to be one of the top guys, everybody looked at me, like, ‘Swann is going to be a guy who’s going to help us this year.’ … I want to be a playmaker, be a guy that’s accountable.”
He said he expects “for the most part” to be a starter, but if not “I know I’ll be counted on to come out and play.”
Such expectations come naturally to him. What didn’t come naturally was the freshman season in which he appeared in 11 games but started only one.
After all, he had been a four-year starter on offense, defense and special teams at Atlanta’s Grady High and came to Georgia in the much-hyped (and now attrition-diminished) 2011 “Dream Team” recruiting class.
“I’m pretty sure it’d be an adjustment for anyone being one of the top guys throughout the whole country,” Swann said. But he added that he was prepared for the learning experience.
“This level right here is very different from high school,” he said. “Right now, we are in an NFL scheme. So I just learned as much as I could, waiting my turn.”
– Chip Towers contributed to this article.
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