It’s a different world for Sheldon Dawson in Georgia’s secondary.
Last year, Dawson was the touted new arrival from Ridgeway High in Memphis who watched from the sideline as more experienced cornerbacks such as Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Damian Swann got the playing time during the season. Now the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is starting opposite Swann in a youthful secondary eager to prove it can flourish despite heavy personnel losses.
“Being able to run with the starting group has been a great joy for me, because I know what I’m capable of doing,” Dawson said after a recent practice. “I know the work that I’ve put in ever since we started running in the winter. This is a good opportunity, and I think this could be a great year for me and for this secondary.”
The Bulldogs practiced in full pads for the first time Monday and will conduct their first scrimmage Wednesday. Coach Mark Richt said Monday’s workout was physical and intense and he was pleased with the “energy of the day.”
Dawson played in 13 games last season and made 12 tackles. His season high of three tackles occurred in the second game at Missouri, when Commings was suspended and the starting nod went to former Ridgeland High standout and current sophomore Devin Bowman.
A stellar spring enabled Dawson to surpass Bowman and vault to the second-best corner behind Swann, marking a rapid rise from where he was 12 months ago.
“There were certain coverages last year where I would get beat deep,” Dawson said. “I used to always make mistakes and would worry about the receivers I didn’t have to worry about. Now I know exactly what not to give up and what not to worry about.”
“When I came in last year, I had to learn and I had to wait to be called on. That didn’t make me quit. I knew I had to keep fighting.”
There were also plenty of veterans on whom to lean. Commings and Smith were seniors on last year’s defense, as were safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams.
“Bacarri Rambo took me under his wing,” Dawson said. “He let me know I could play and that I would be a good player one day, but Shawn Williams was the one I looked to as far as the passion he always played with. He played with such determination, and it made me want to boost my game.
“I tell people now that I want to be just like Shawn and that I want to impact a defense just like Shawn Williams did, because everybody on that defense listened to him. He was the general.”
Scout.com rated Dawson the No. 11 cornerback nationally in the 2012 signing class and the No. 1 prospect from Tennessee. He said there are friends back home wishing he had signed with the Volunteers but added that he couldn’t be happier with his decision.
Dawson and the Bulldogs open at Clemson on Aug. 31, with the Tigers expected to provide an instant challenge with quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.
“Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins are a great combination of quarterback and receiver, but I play the game of football,” Dawson said. “That means whoever is lined up in front of me, my job is to win the battle. We don’t care if we’re playing a lower seed or a top seed, we want to play football and win.
“Our goal is to win the national championship, so we have to play at a high level every week.”
Sophomore outside linebacker James DeLoach, a projected starter, and freshman outside linebacker Davin Bellamy underwent surgery Monday in Athens to repair injuries to their left thumbs. DeLoach sustained a sprained ulnar collateral ligament during Sunday’s practice; Bellamy suffered a fracture.
Richt said both players could practice while wearing a club by the end of this week and should not need any protection by the opener.
Odds and ends
Freshman safety Tray Matthews was limited for a second straight practice for what is now being described as a shoulder sprain, while freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins was out with a strained groin. … Richt said junior guard and former Dalton High standout Watts Dantzler is “competing better.” … The Bulldogs will practice twice today.
<em>Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfree
press.com or 423-757-6524.</em>