Monday, August 27
The love affair began at age 7, and hasn't subsided since.
For as long as D.J. Swearinger has played football, the senior safety has fallen head-over-heels for - well, knocking players head over heels.
"My Dad always told me to hit low, hit hard, and wrap up," Swearinger told me after practice Sunday.
The Greenwood, S.C., native has carried that advice into his senior season at South Carolina, where he has earned a reputation as one of the SEC's fiercest hitters. Who else could inspire defensive line coach Brad Lawing to joke this summer that when Swearinger reaches the NFL, "he'll lead the league in fines" because of his unrepentant love of hitting?
"It's just instincts and something I love to do. I love contact. But I also love interceptions, too," Swearinger said.
Senior D.J. Swearinger (#36) chasing down a ballcarrier vs. Florida.
He'll now be counted on to anchor a defensive secondary that breaks in three new starters, including Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree at cornerback and Brison Williams at safety. Vanderbilt returns its top 5 wide receivers from 2011, and rangy sophomore Chris Boyd
brings the most touchdown catches of any returning SEC wideout (8).
But nothing shrinks a wide receiver quite like the fear of a punishing hit. Few deliver them out with more predatory delight than the 6'0," 210-pound Swearinger.
And like most people who fall in love, Swearinger remembers the exact moment that he developed his lust for big hits.
"I was actually about seven years old. The guy that I hit was one of my good friends. I felt good doing it. It was just a feeling I couldn't explain.
But I'm doing it now, and I'm going to keep doing it."
Other notes as we climb towards game day in Nashville:
Anchor Down, Bombs Away? Not Arkansas with its explosive aerial offense. Not Auburn under its uptempo guru, former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Not even LSU or Alabama, the two participants in last year's BCS National Championship Game.
In 2011, Vanderbilt - yes, Vanderbilt - led all Southeastern Conference teams in plays from scrimmage longer than 40 yards. The Commodores had 18 "money plays," as head coach James Franklin calls them. South Carolina, by comparison, had 13.
Running back Zac Stacy (right) broke Vanderbilt's single-season rushing record in 2011 (1,193 yards).
Vanderbilt has reason to believe it can continue minting money plays in 2012. The Commodores return 9 starters from an offense that averaged 31.5 points over their last 7 games. Running back Zac Stacy, who broke Vanderbilt's single-season rushing record last year, returns to the backfield, along with 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman. Can South Carolina avoid the mental lapses that plague teams in season openers, and prevent Vandy from sparking itself with a long play?
One thing we do know: Vanderbilt's "money plays" went into bankruptcy at Williams-Brice last year. The Gamecocks held the Commodores to 77 total yards on 48 plays in a 21-3 win.
Full Speed Ahead: Thursday night marks the highly anticipated return of Marcus Lattimore, who tore his ACL against Mississippi State October 17. He'll face a Vanderbilt defense that needs to replace its top three tacklers, but still sported some impressive numbers against the run last year.
On the surface.
Vanderbilt Rush Defense Yards Per Carry Allowed NCAA Rank
Overall 3.59 36th
3rd downs, 1-3 yds. to go 4.06 85th
In addition to finishing 18th nationally in rush defense, Vanderbilt finished a respectable 36th in yards per carry allowed (3.59). Yet on third downs with 1-3 yards to go, the Commodores defense allowed 4.06 yards per rush, dropping them to 85th in the nation. Statistically, the Commodores failed to bow up in short-yardage situations.
Here he comes: Marcus Lattimore (#21).
Why might that be significant? Tough yards lead to first downs. First downs lead to marches downfield. Drives downfield lead to points. And no player in college football excels at grinding out yards after contact - rehabbed ACL or not - more than Marcus Lattimore.
Sibling Warfare: Which family has the better set of sibling names, the Cunninghams or the Robinettes? Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham counts siblings Power, Promise, and Sincere. Vanderbilt freshman QB Patton Robinette boasts sisters Payton, Paxton, and Preston.
Postscript: Whatever happened to D.J. Swearinger's friend, the person he knocked into next week as a 7 year-old?
"He's still my friend to this day," D.J. chuckled.
More notes to come. Let the countdown continue. -AD--