ATHENS -- Damian Swann analyzes the moment with a steady detachment that shows he really has moved on. He blames himself, but he also explains how it happened, careful not to throw anyone else under the bus.
“It was just one of those things where the ground game kinda got to me,” said the Georgia cornerback, recalling how he was lulled into expecting Alabama would run it again. “It was a play-action pass, and I took a peek in the backfield. And when I looked up, the quarterback was still up.
“It was one of those things where it kind of cost us, taking that extra peek. But I learned from it.”
Georgia fans might wince at another painful memory from last year’s SEC championship game, but Swann recovered from giving up the game-winning score, a 45-yard touchdown catch by Alabama’s Amari Cooper with 3:15 left. One game later, Swann had two interceptions in the Bulldogs’ Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska.
And this season, Swann is being counted on to lead an inexperienced and injury-riddled secondary.
Swann started every game last season, supplanting a senior (Branden Smith) in the lineup. Swann showed he can be a playmaker, picking off four passes in addition to forcing and recovering two fumbles. He even had a couple sacks.
As the secondary transitioned this offseason, losing three senior starters, coaches also praised Swann’s leadership. It’s badly needed with so many true freshmen set to play.
Now the question is how good Swann can be at his own job. Can he anchor this group? Can he be a lock-down cornerback right away, when he presumably guards Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins?
“It’s gonna be a challenge,” Swann said. “And when you come to a program like this, that’s what you look for. You want to match up with these guys. You want to compete against those guys each week. That’s how you make a name for yourself.”
“You have to be on your A game,” receiver Justin Scott-Wesley said of going against Swann in practice. “Because he’s smart. You can’t use the same move against him twice, because he’ll pick up on it.”
In fairness, it should be pointed out that Swann alone wasn’t responsible for letting Cooper get free in the SEC championship game. When a receiver gets that wide open downfield, a safety missed an assignment, too. But Swann didn’t say that.
“That game could’ve went either way. If we had scored that last play, people probably would’ve forgot about that play. But we didn’t, and now that falls back on me. I take the blame for it, and I’ll be a man and own up to it,” Swann said. “You always learn from your mistakes, and that’s what makes you a better player. But that’s what makes you a better man, to own up to your mistakes and get ready to make the next play.”
Swann has been reminded recently about how little those things can matter.
De’Antre Turman, an 11th-grader at Creekside, died Aug. 16 after being injured during a scrimmage. Swann was close with Turman, having met when Turman was 6 years old. Swann served as a mentor to Turman -- who he called “TreTre” -- and they stayed in touch once Swann went to Georgia.
Swann will miss practice Saturday to attend the funeral.
“It was one of those things that was really hard for me when I did get the phone call, when I did wake up to all the missed calls the next morning,” Swann said. “It was something that was kind of hard for me. But you know God has a plan for everybody.”