ATHENS, Ga. -- Damian Swann’s hair isn’t thinning and he doesn’t wake up each morning with chronic back pain, but he does feel like the resident old guy in Georgia’s secondary.
The rising junior cornerback spent his first two seasons surrounded by veterans, but entered this spring as the only defensive back in the Bulldogs’ arsenal with any valuable field experience.
It’s a different feeling for Swann, who is going from student to big brother/teacher, but as spring practice winds down, he’s more comfortable with being the guy who is looked up to in this defense.
“It was a challenge [to take on more responsibility this spring], but now it’s going to be even more challenging because I’m kind of the lone defensive back, period, that has established himself in this system,” Swann told ESPN.com Thursday. “A lot of people might look at it as me having to make more plays than I did last year, which is fine because that’s what I want to do.”
He also wants to make sure all the holes left by the departures of corners Sanders Commings and Branden Smith, along with safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams are properly filled. These weren’t run-of-the-mill players, either. These were strong, veteran starters that any SEC team would have loved to have.
Now, the Bulldogs have to replace them with a slew of youngsters, mostly freshmen, and Swann feels somewhat responsible for guiding them this year. He isn’t looking to be a father figure, just the best big brother he can be.
Still, taking on a leadership role and having to teach has felt odd at times considering Swann wasn’t even sure how much playing time he was going to get last season.
After playing sparingly as a freshman in 2011, Swann began 2012 as a starter only due to a rash of suspensions in the secondary. With Commings sitting for two games to start the year, Swann said he wasn’t surprised by his heavy playing time, but when Commings returned, he still found himself in the starting lineup. Then, when the Tennessee game arrived in Week 5, he was named the strong corner starter and would stay there all season.
He expected to move back to the nickel at some point, which was fine, but taking over one of the top corner spots left him a bit speechless. He went from 60-70 plays a game to 80-90, which was a lot for a youngster like Swann.
“That was a big push for me, just being a sophomore playing all those snaps in the SEC,” Swann said with a laugh.
Swann started 14 games last year and led the team with four interceptions and also broke up five passes. He even recorded two sacks, recovered two fumbles and forced two fumbles.
Quietly, Swann played a big part of Georgia’s defense last season, but he’s looking for an even bigger role in 2013.
“I want to be the guy that lives up to the expectations, that wants to be in the spotlight, that wants to cover your best receiver,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for me, but I’m willing to accept that.”
Swann is actually in an interesting spot. He starts off as the team’s top player in the secondary, but he might not get all the attention he wants this fall. Offenses usually tend to pick on the younger guys, so Swann might not have passes thrown his way as much as he’d like.
That means his teaching skills will have to be that much better as he tries to coach up the pups around him. The good news is after all the time he got last season, Swann thinks he’ll have more time to help than worry about his own game once fall arrives.
“Last season might have been the best thing that could have happened to me and to Georgia because imagine if I wasn’t to play and we graduated all those guys,” he said. “Now, it’s going to a whole entire brand-new secondary with hardly any experience. Me playing as much as I did puts us in a better situation.”