WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Damian Swann takes nothing for granted.
Draft picks in the NFL enjoy something of an elevated status over the rest of the rookies fighting for a roster spot. The higher a player is picked, the more leeway he usually gets to develop into a key player, particularly in his first year, as teams try to maximize their investment.
Swann, a fifth-round pick out of Georgia, doesn’t see it that way. He has something to prove.
“I was one of those guys that was drafted late, so I’ve got to earn my spot,” Swann said. “Every rep that I get, I’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Swann made the most out of his chances on Thursday night against Baltimore.
His interception was hard to miss, a momentum-turning big play for a defense that sorely needed it to open the second half.
But Swann was solid throughout the game. On his first snap in the NFL, Swann made a tackle in punt coverage, a key display for a player who will need to prove he can be effective on special teams to earn a spot.
A little later in the game, after the interception, Swann made a physical tackle on a crossing route, and his physical nature fits what New Orleans is trying to become at cornerback this season.
Only two penalties, part of a natural learning curve for defensive backs used to the physicality of the college game, marred the effort.
“Swann had a couple holding calls, but nonetheless, made a couple plays in the secondary that were real encouraging,” coach Sean Payton said. “He’s real smart, he can play outside, but he’s someone that can handle the inside.”
New Orleans rewarded Swann by putting him in a position to make an even bigger impression.
With starting nickel back Delvin Breaux sidelined because of a minor injury suffered against the Ravens, Swann stepped into the starting lineup as a nickel cornerback during Sunday’s practice, suddenly offered a chance to show what he can do against the likes of Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston.
“It’s very big, being able to capitalize on this,” Swann said. “Being able to get that experience against our top guys, our top quarterback. Being able to get those reps, it gives us more confidence.”
Swann brings a physical element to the position that fits the defense well.
His attitude is cut from the mold of starter Brandon Browner, famous for his physical work at the line of scrimmage.
Swann likes to play the same way, displaying what he calls patience at the line of scrimmage, the kind of patience it takes to keep battering a receiver instead of turning and running right away, thereby allowing the receiver to dictate the action.
Swann wants to make the receiver fight to get to the spot, which simultaneously tips where the route is headed.
“Not giving up the easy release, not just giving the receiver an easy lane to get into his route,” Swann said. “Disrupting the timing, and staying square, staying on top of routes.”
Now the key is to learn the line between physical play and penalties.
A little more experience might be all Swann needs. In a crowded cornerback room, his physicality stands out.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Swann said. “I’m trying to make the 53.”