It was a dark and stormy night. The rain fell from the sky in bitter waves, like the tears of a red clad crowd watching their team gack up an ugly loss to a Conference USA foe in a half-empty Liberty Bowl. Only one thing could bring hope to the collected Bulldog partisans: the nonbinding verbal commitment of a swift, ball-hawking defensive back.
OK, so the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on January 8th did not occur on a dark and stormy night. But after watching a disasterous Liberty Bowl, followed by prime recruits Xzavier Dickson and Quan Bray deciding to attend other SEC schools, Bulldog Nation was in a pretty dark mood, a mood which seemed to lift (at least temporarily) with the commitment of Grady High School defensive back Damian Swann on a national stage. In fact, Swann's commitment was perhaps the beginning of the late tidal wave of commitments that collectively solidified the "Dream Team."
Damian Swann won't instantly turn Georgia into a national title contender. No recruit in the 2011 class will. The guys primarily responsible for turning things around in Athens are the ones who already reside there. But what Swann's commitment does do is continue the rebuilding of a secondary that has been a major liability for years. He's one of a number of talented young defensive backs in this class, but the first to get the full TMI treatment.
Swann chose the Bulldogs over offers from a who's who of college football's elite: Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Southern Cal, Florida, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, among dozens of others. Ranked by Rivals as one of the top three cornerbacks in the class of 2011 and one of the top five players in the state of Georgia, Swann was one of those "must get" instate prospects. As you'll see from the highlight video below (taken from Swann's junior season), this versatile athlete starred at defensive back, wide receiver and even quarterback for the Grey Knights of Henry W. Grady High. To the tape:
A few observations:
- Swann will certainly need to add quality weight, especially in his upper body, to compete against SEC receivers. He is not necessarily skinny, but he's got a ways to go to top 180 pounds. The good news of course is that he doesn't seem to have a lot of bad weight to lose. In terms of body type, Swann reminds me a lot of a taller Brandon Boykin. If he fills out the way Boykin has, he'll be physically ready for bigtime college football.
- He also has a tendency to do the "Deion Sanders head-down-ankle-tackle", which has become distressingly common among high school defensive backs. It's not an every play problem, but on some of these alleged "highlights" Swann demonstrates truly awful tackling technique, and that's an issue Coach Lakatos will have to deal with. Adding the upper body mass I mentioned above should help. Right now, Swann has the speed to get to the ballcarrier in a hurry, but not the size or technique to deliver a killing blow once he arrives.
- On a positive note, Swann has very nice ball skills. Seriously, some of the catches on this tape are the kind that not a lot of guys can make consistently. That includes a lot of guys playing defensive back in the college ranks. I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't recruit offensive linemen who don't have the feet to play defensive line in high school, or defensive backs who don't have the hands to play receiver on that level. With Damian that's just not a problem. I like a defensive back with the ability to go up and take the ball away from people. He's got that, and frankly a lot of the guys we've been playing at corner the past few years haven't. This is progress.
- Swann also has really good speed. Seriously, watch how quickly the guy gets off the line, and how quickly he accelerates away from those trying to cover him. Also notice on a couple of those bootleg plays from the QB position Swann displays the mythical "next gear" that really special athletes have when they need it (e.g., Bailey, Champ). Of course, if Swann (as I suspect he will) plays mostly on defense in Athens, he will spend a lot of time backpedaling off the line rather than sprinting off it. This video doesn't tell us a whole lot about how well he can do that. But one would presume his feet move almost as fast in reverse as they do in drive. I understand that the above sounds like a pretty critical assessment of a guy who many people believe is one of the top 5 players at his position in the class of 2011. And I don't mean to imply that I don't think Swann will succeed in Athens. On the contrary, I think Damian Swann is going to be a solid multiyear contributor on defense and special teams in the Classic City, and may also do good things on offense as well. But right now he's a lump of clay in need of serious molding. But he's high quality clay, which is a start. Until later . . .