Georgia's Damian Swann thrilled by vastly improved secondary

Georgia's Damian Swann thrilled by vastly improved secondary

December 26th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia cornerback Damian Swann (5) almost intercepts a pass intended for Georgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, left.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Georgia Bulldogs rank second nationally in pass defense entering Tuesday night's Belk Bowl against Louisville in Charlotte.

And after last season, who saw that coming?

Georgia was 67th a year ago defending the pass in Todd Grantham's fourth and final season as defensive coordinator. The sharp rise under Jeremy Pruitt is all the more stunning given that a true freshman, Dominick Sanders, has started every game and that a walk-on, Aaron Davis, has started nine of 12 contests.

"It's the coaching, and it's getting guys in the right position," senior defensive back Damian Swann said. "Don't get me wrong, Coach Grantham could do that, too, but the difference is Coach Grantham is a front guy and Coach Pruitt is a secondary guy and may understand more things on the back end that Coach Grantham wouldn't.

"At the end of the day, I think Coach Pruitt has done a great job with getting us in the right position and putting in great game plans and just letting us go out and play football."

Georgia held a 75-minute practice in shoulder pads and shorts Thursday afternoon before having a Christmas dinner.

The Bulldogs are allowing 158.4 passing yards a game after allowing 227.4 last season, and they have not given up a pass play of 40 yards all year. Last season, Georgia yielded a 77-yard reception against Clemson, a 40-yarder against Missouri, an 83-yarder against Florida, a 73-yarder against Auburn, a 43-yarder against Georgia Tech and a 99-yarder against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

That improvement from the secondary has aided the defense overall, as Georgia is allowing 41.5 fewer yards and 7.8 fewer points a game compared to a year ago.

"There is no doubt Jeremy is responsible for how well those guys played and their growth and the speed at which they learned," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "Those guys have obviously a lot to do with it, too, just how hard they worked and how well they listened to coaching. We made a lot of improvement back there."

Said Swann: "It was a blessing for me to play under Pruitt for a year. You can see the difference in the numbers. You can see the difference in the leadership. You can see the difference in the way the entire defense plays, and that's what we needed."

Swann needed a grand finale to cap a college career that contained a noticeable downturn. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior was a top-100 national signee in 2011 who quickly earned playing time amid an experienced secondary containing Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Branden Smith.

That quartet was gone after the 2012 season, as were linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree and defensive linemen John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington. Nine members of Georgia's defense two years ago have played in the NFL, and their departures left Swann battling through an erratic 2013 season.

"A lot of guys in my class played under Grantham when things were good," Swann said. "We played under Grantham when we had two first-rounders, a second-rounder and some third- and fourth-rounders. I've played with some great talent, but when it went from those guys to a struggling season, it was like the world was ending.

"It's something your program has to go through sometimes, but I think this program is about to be lights out."

And being the veteran of a secondary that has gone from 67th to second isn't a bad way to exit.

"I think I've had a heck of a career," he said. "I've enjoyed it, and I think I've had a tremendous senior season. I know I've had my struggles, but I've learned from them and been able to grow as a player."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.