ATHENS, Ga. — They were supposed to be the type of players that a secondary in transition could build around.
At least back in the summer, Georgia cornerbacks Damian Swann and Sheldon Dawson looked like playmakers with upside.
Swann was a preseason second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick who was coming off a year in which he led Georgia with four interceptions and had 53 tackles. Dawson made noise picking off passes in spring and preseason scrimmages and teammates talked him up.
Then the games came.
Swann had all kinds of trouble holding up in pass coverage. Dawson couldn’t get on the field on defense, passed over by freshmen Brendan Langley and then Shaq Wiggins.
A foot injury to sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons against Vanderbilt may have begun to change the complexion of their seasons.
Swann moved back to the nickel spot he manned last season and Dawson was called on to get cornerback snaps.
“I’m getting my feet back,” said Swann, who had two pass breakups and 10 tackles against Vanderbilt. “I played back in the nickel spot where I haven’t been all year and I think it’s going to be great from here on.”
Swann, who echoed what coach Mark Richt said a couple of weeks ago that he’s been “struggling” this season, had some rough patches still. He muffed a punt that led to a Vanderbilt touchdown and was in coverage on a 41-yard completion to Jonathan Krause in the fourth quarter.
“The long ball down the sideline. ... I thought the receiver got away on that one, but the official didn’t see it the way I saw it,” Richt said.
Swann has been beaten on several touchdown passes this season.
“It’s been some good and some bad,” Richt said of the play of the junior from Atlanta. “I think he’s playing hard, I think he’s practicing hard. I think he cares and I think that he had a pretty good ballgame overall.”
Dawson was credited with three tackles after being relegated to mostly special teams this season.
“I was blessed to be able to be out there and fight with my teammates,” the sophomore from Memphis said. “I felt pretty good to be out there. Harvey-Clemons did get injured, but I’ve been in the game plan a couple of weeks now, it’s just whenever coach felt comfortable to call it. When he went down, we had to switch some stuff up, but everybody knew what to do.”
Said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: “Sheldon’s been practicing really hard. He’s a young guy, too. I thought he earned the right to play relative to the way he’s played in practice, and I wanted to reward that. I thought he hung in there and played pretty good.”
Swann was expected to lead a Georgia secondary that includes several first-year starters including Harvey-Clemons, Quincy Mauger, Tray Matthews and Corey Moore.
Now, he’s doing that despite his rocky season.
“I think I’m setting a great example to come out here and struggle and still compete,” Swann said. “I’m letting these guys know DB is one of the hardest positions, if not the hardest position to play, and guys are learning from that. You’re going to get beat – you’ve just got to bounce back from it.”
Depending on Harvey-Clemons’s availability for the Nov. 2 game against Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., Swann could stick at the nickel spot.
“I think he has a comfort level in there, no doubt,” Richt said. “Josh does a good job in there, too. I don’t know if it’s something that they could split and I don’t know how healthy Josh is going to be, quite frankly for this next game. I’m sure Damian will be repping a lot inside until we know for sure what the deal is with Josh.”