The player who comes in at No. 3 in this year's countdown of Georgia's most important players was No. 4 in last year's countdown. He moves up one spot this year in large part because last year showed - for the wrong reasons - how important he was to the Bulldogs.
We'll explain shortly. A reminder that this is not a ranking of the team's best players. Rather it's a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
And now we enter the top three:
3. DAMIAN SWANN
WHY HE’S VITAL: Unless you’ve been deep-mining in Tallulah Gorge the past six months, you probably don’t need an explanation here. It’s not true that Swann is all that’s left after all the dismissals and transfers – safeties Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger were starters last year – but the offseason events have only accentuated Swann’s importance. In fact, it was on display last year: If Swann hadn’t struggled, chances are the secondary wouldn’t have been as bad. That doesn’t mean it was his fault, in fact it was partly a result of the inexperience around him. Swann, not by nature a vocal leader, was trying to help youngsters around him at the same time he was trying to play like the star corner he was expected to be. (He was a preseason all-SEC second-team pick at 2013 SEC media days.) When one cornerback is struggling, then it’s easier for a safety to provide help. But when both corners are struggling well, Georgia fans saw what happened. This year, the hope is that a simplified scheme and system of signals will allow Swann to just bear down and play. He has 28 career starts, and while Jeremy Pruitt isn’t just handing Swann back the first-team role, it’s hard to see freshmen or walk-ons supplanting him. If Swann can rebound and have a strong senior year, he can anchor the secondary and lead a turnaround.
QUOTABLE: “I think coach Pruitt will have him better this year than he was. I’ve seen him play better this spring than he did last year. (This year Swann) will have guys that know what to do now. They’ll have experience under their belt, so he can just play his part and be the same Swann he was his sophomore year.” – Senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera.
BEST CASE: Swann has the season that was expected of him last year. He provides a stabilizing presence for the secondary, as well as more vocal leadership, and Pruitt doesn’t have to worry about double-teaming the other team’s top receiver. Call it a domino effect: When Pruitt is able to feel good about his No. 1 cornerback, then it becomes easier to settle on every spot in the preseason, and when the No. 1 cornerback does his job during games, then it makes it that much easier to do what you want on third down.
WORST CASE: Last year.
FINAL WORD: As a sophomore Swann led Georgia with four interceptions, and also recovered two fumbles and even had two sacks. That’s what he’s capable of when things are going well, and NFL scouts are still watching him despite his struggles last year. The worry for Georgia is that Swann is best suited for a supporting role – he excelled earlier in his career playing opposite Sanders Commings and in front of Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo. Can Swann anchor a secondary? It’s an open question, and this year will show how much the problems last year were scheme and inexperience, and how much was Swann himself.