Cornerback Swann paying closer attention to details while learning to lead

The young safeties with worlds of potential — Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons — have created plenty of buzz this spring for Georgia.

The sophomore who has run with the starters at one corner spot, Sheldon Dawson, leads the team with three interceptions in the two scrimmages held so far.

Then there is Damian Swann.

The rising junior cornerback from Atlanta started all 14 games last season. The rest of the players this spring on defense combined for 26 starts.

Swann is getting used to a new group around him after the secondary lost starting safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo and cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith.

“It’s a different look,” Swann said. “It’s a very different feeling for me. I look to the left, I see Branden. I look behind me I see Rambo and Shawn. The other corner I see Sanders. All four of those guys are gone now. I’ve just got to get comfortable playing with the guys that are here now because that’s who I’m going to be playing with.”

For all that NFL talent in the secondary last year, it was Swann who led Georgia in interceptions with four.

He closed the season with a bang with six tackles and two interceptions against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl victory.

“I think he was tremendous last year,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “When you look at the way he played and the way he progressed, I expect him to be a leader for us back there.”

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Swann said he’s tried to learn the responsibilities of every position in the secondary to teach the younger players better.

“I think Swann is leading extremely well for us,” coach Mark Richt said. “I think he’s practicing hard. He’s to the point in his career where he’s got to think in terms of trying to perfect his trade and what he does. He’s not learning what to do anymore. He knows what to do. He really doesn’t have to prove to anybody that he’s a very good football player, he’s already proved that. Now it’s just a matter of can I lead and can I become the very best football player that I can possibly be. I think that’s his mindset. I’m seeing good signs of that.”

Swann is using this spring to get a better handle on the gritty details of playing in the secondary — splits, formations, his technique.

“Just getting the little things down, playing off, playing press,” said Swann, who had 53 tackles last season. “It’s all the smaller things that I didn’t really focus on last year.”

Matthews, an early enrollee from Newnan, has made strong inroads to securing the starting free safety spot. Harvey-Clemons, a sophomore from Valdosta, is working as the starting strong safety in the base formation and as the “star” covering the slot receiver in the nickel package.

“It’s a communication thing and it’s me being a leader,” said Swann, who has moved from the field corner to the boundary corner this spring and provides flexibility in the secondary. “I think I have to take charge out there when guys are kind of confused. I have to tell it to them on the fly because the offense knows we’re new, but they’re not taking it lightly. We’ve just got to get everybody on the same page so everybody can play fast.”

Swann said his big bowl game helped him get over the SEC championship loss. Alabama went ahead for good on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper, who beat Swann with 3:15 left.

“Damian’s been Damian,” receiver Chris Conley said. “He’s developed more. He’s got the same confidence that he has had last year, but I think the biggest thing about Damian is he’s a true SEC starting corner. He plays like one. He’s got the presence of one and quarterbacks and offenses are going to be aware of that because he’s made those plays and he’s continuing to make those plays in the spring and he’s only getting better.”

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