UGA’s Swann underrated despite playmaking ability

Buried at the bottom of the stat sheet for Georgia’s first official scrimmage last week was the following line: Damian Swann: 1 INT.

The junior cornerback has likely grown accustomed to a general lack of attention. Opposing offenses are growing all too accustomed to Swann making plays and ending drives.

The 5-foot-11, 178-pound product out of Atlanta’s Grady High School was considered the nation’s third-best cornerback prospect when he signed with Georgia in 2011. He spent the bulk of his freshman year as an understudy behind veteran defensive backs Brandon Boykin, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith. But last season proved to be a breakout year for one of the less-heralded members of the “Dream Team” recruiting class.

In 2012, Swann beat out Smith for the starting cornerback position opposite of Commings and capitalized in his 14 starts. From a statistical standpoint, it’s curious that Swann didn’t receive more notoriety despite a spotlight that was already stretched thin by a plethora of talent in Athens. In his first year as a starter, Swann was sixth on the team with 34 solo tackles. His four interceptions led the team and he was tied for tops among Bulldogs in fumble recoveries. He trailed only veteran playmakers Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo in fumbles forced and was second on the team in passes broken up.

The numbers alone speak volumes for Damian Swann, but the situational greatness of his playmaking is what truly stands out. Damian Swann is not simply opportunistic; he is clutch. He makes plays when they matter most.

The Georgia-Tennessee game was a true shootout in 2012. The Bulldogs held on for a 51-44 win in a game that seemed destined to be won by the last offense with the ball. Swann intercepted a Tyler Bray pass in that game.

We all remember Jones’ heroics in the Georgia-Florida game. What seems to be forgotten is the fact that Swann forced the Jeff Driskel fumble on the Gators’ opening possession. Jones recovered the fumble only after Swann knocked it loose in the midst of a sack. Swann wasn’t done either. He later intercepted a Driskel pass and returned it to the 25 yard-line.

UGA ultimately opened up a comfortable lead against Ole Miss in Novemeber, but the game was entirely too close for entirely too long. With Georgia trailing 10-7, Swann recovered a fumble and returned it 53 yards. He recovered another fumble later in the game.

Swann came up with two big interceptions against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. The first came with Georgia clinging to a 16-14 lead and set up a short scoring drive for the Bulldogs. The second came with Nebraska about to strike with a touchdown that could have narrowed the Bulldog lead to seven points with just eight minutes remaining in the game.

Undoubtedly, some of Damian Swann’s success has been a byproduct of Todd Grantham’s scheme and the personnel of the talent-rich 2012 defense. Grantham’s version of the 3-4 thrives on pressure, and Swann was able to take advantage of hurried passes that were forced into coverage while future NFL defensive backs like Commings, Rambo and Shawn Williams roamed. But, there is something to be said for a player who knows how to be opportunistic. Swann knows how to attack the football, regardless of whether it is in the air or being toted on the ground. He knows how to make tackles. He knows how to be aggressive.

All of those traits are going to serve him and the rest of the Bulldog defense quite well in 2013. And, with Swann being called upon to temporarily patch up the void at the Star position left by Josh Harvey-Clemons’ suspension, the need for his big-play tendency will not be buried for long.

Swann was recently named to the Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe preseason watch lists, and many people likely asked, “Who?”

Opposing offenses are going to know Damian Swann very well in 2013 – for better or worse.