JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Damian Swann is not one to sugarcoat things when it comes to how his Georgia secondary played this year. He’s also not one to throw anyone under the bus.
Instead, the junior cornerback threads the needle nicely between taking personal accountability, acknowledging reality and talking hopefully about the future.
“The way I look at it is we struggled as a whole. I struggled, I had my own struggles, and we struggled as a whole,” Swann said. “The way I look at it is it can only get better from here. It can only get better. We’re gonna keep working, we’re gonna keep grinding, and prepare ourselves to get better for next year.”
Swann's reason for optimism - other than "it can only get better" is that every starter is due back, as well as most key reserves. So shooting for the secondary to at least be decent next year seems reasonable. Most inside and outside Georgia would settle for it just no longer being a liability.
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But Swann skips past that, saying the unit will “have an opportunity to be one of the best, if not the best.” It may sound laughable. But during a conversation Swann comes off as rather defiant about the secondary’s potential next year.
“Absolutely. I believe in my guys, I believe in myself, I believe in this staff,” Swann said. “And I think with us getting this year, with guys being able to learn, I think we can be one of the best in the country.”
A good first step would be a strong performance against Nebraska in Wednesday’s Gator Bowl. The bar for what constitutes that is low for Georgia’s pass defense, which ranks 68th nationally and 10th in the SEC, and is coming off letting Georgia tech, a triple-option team, pass with some success.
But the bar is just as low for Nebraska’s passing offense, which ranks 93rd nationally, and will be starting its No. 2 quarterback.
Georgia’s secondary was hit with more bad news before arriving in Jacksonville: Starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and reserve cornerback Sheldon Dawson were suspended for the game.
That could push Swann into playing the star position, also known as the nickel back role, which Harvey-Clemons played in the 4-2-5 scheme the team uses a lot. But Swann said he was still practicing mostly at his normal cornerback spot, and wasn’t sure what his role would be. Either way, Swann is fine with it.
He’s also moving into a different role, spiritually, within the secondary. Prior to this season he spoke about being a leader, but his own struggles hurt that. Now, head coach Mark Richt senses that Swann and fellow junior Corey Moore, a safety, are taking control of things with their secondary mates.
“Damian hasn’t played as well as he’d hoped this year, and he’s hungry to finish strong and have a great senior year,” Richt said. “We need him and Corey Moore. They are the obvious choices on the back end of our defense to provide leadership and take ownership of the group. We’ve had some young guys play a lot of downs for this year, but Damian and Corey are two guys that I feel comfortable are ready to lead the way next year.”
Swann admits now he wasn’t ready for the role that was thrust on him this year.
“It was a quick transition for me, being a younger guy playing last year. Playing with all the older guys that are in the NFL now, the transition came fast for me,” Swann said. “I think I learned from it. It was a good experience for me.”