Red­skins safeties have en­ergy, but fit to be de­ter­mined

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

If there were ever to be a sit­u­a­tion com­edy about a Red­skins po­si­tion group, it would have to be the safeties (soap opera is an­other mat­ter). Just a rag-tag bunch of goofs, try­ing to fig­ure it out as they go along. There’s Su’a Cravens, the ea­ger young up­start em­bark­ing on a new chal­lenge and learn­ing where he fits in. There’s the new­comer, D.J. Swearinger, the only one who has, you know, done this be­fore. And, of course, DeAn­gelo Hall as the sage, if some­times ornery, grand­fa­ther fig­ure.

The next episode to air? The One Where They Try To Do Bet­ter This Time.

There’s that old say­ing about how you need to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. Most of the Red­skins safeties weren’t very lucky last year. And the few that were, weren’t good enough to be con­trib­u­tors at the NFL level.

DeAn­gelo Hall and David Bru­ton, the team’s Week 1 starters, both wound up on in­jured re­serve within a month. Bru­ton was even­tu­ally waived. Duke Ihenacho, who was a healthy scratch in Week 1, ended up start­ing the most games among safeties (10) and played the most snaps, with Donte Whit­ner and Will Black­mon also in on de­fense about half the time. Whit­ner, too, wound up on IR at the end of the sea­son. The Red­skins de­fense ranked No. 25 against the pass and No. 24 against the run.

This year, Cravens is con­vert­ing from line­backer to strong safety, and free safety Swearinger was signed in free agency. Hall is still re­hab­bing but the Red­skins ex­pect to bring him back at a re­duced salary.

How Jay Gru­den will fit them all to­gether re­mains to be seen. If it will work is an­other ques­tion en­tirely. But one thing is cer­tain, ac­cord­ing to Gru­den: he knows they’ve got moxie!

“Very pro­duc­tive, brings a great en­ergy,” Gru­den said, dis­cussing the Swearinger sign­ing last week at the NFL’s an­nual meet­ings in Phoenix. “Just talk­ing to him and shak­ing his hand for the first time you just had a good feel­ing about the sense of how much he loved foot­ball. The his­tory, even the Sean Tay­lor and the Red­skins and all that, you can tell he loves play­ing safety and he’s go­ing to be a good one.”

“That’s what de­fen­sive foot­ball is all about; play­ing as one with great en­ergy,” Gru­den con­tin­ued. “Sign­ing Josh Nor­man was a step in that di­rec­tion too be­cause he has un­be­liev­able en­ergy. Pair­ing him with his high school buddy [Swearinger] is go­ing to be fun to watch.”

Yes, Swearinger and Red­skins CB1 Nor­man go all the way back to Green­wood High School, where they won a South Carolina state ti­tle in 2006. The more in­ter­est­ing pair­ing, though, may be with Cravens.

Swearinger did well in an Ari­zona Car­di­nals de­fense that played a ton of dime last sea­son. While that means he was on the field for plenty of pass­ing downs, Swearinger was of­ten re­spon­si­ble for de­fend­ing against the run in case of­fenses tried to ex­ploit the cov­er­age. He made 64 tack­les, three in­ter­cep­tions and two sacks and de­fensed eight passes last sea­son in 16 games. Cravens, hav­ing been a line­backer, is more of a hit­ter than a pa­trol­man in the mid­dle of the field so it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how Gru­den and Manusky use the tan­dem.

Gru­den, it seems, is pro­ject­ing that Swearinger will get bet­ter at cov­er­ing the deep mid­dle.

“I think the good thing about D.J. is his abil­ity, his growth,” Gru­den said. “I think D.J., when you watch him in his ca­reer, he maybe dis­ap­pointed a lit­tle bit early, but last year I think he played as good as any safety in the NFL, quite frankly. He’s done it in dif­fer­ent spots, wasn’t just a box safety, he played in the hole, he played half the field, he played quar­ters, he played ev­ery­thing.”

The best-case-sce­nario for the Red­skins is that Swearinger does con­tinue to grow, and that he grows in a di­rec­tion

that fur­ther sep­a­rates his skillset from that of Cravens.

On the other hand, Gru­den also said it’s pos­si­ble Cravens has some un­tapped range to him. Cravens has only played scout team safety for the Red­skins, so they don’t re­ally know what they have yet.

“We want to try and give him ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to learn it and play it and see what he can and can’t do,” Gru­den said. “Know­ing Su’a, I don’t think there’s a lot of things he can’t do so I’m ex­cited to see him back there. I think he’s go­ing to have a lot more range than peo­ple give him credit for right now. He didn’t run the great­est 40 time, but he plays fast on the foot­ball field and that’s more im­por­tant.”

Then there’s Hall. He’s still re­hab­bing his torn ACL, and the Red­skins would likely need to re­struc­ture his con­tract to lessen its $4.25 mil­lion cap hit sig­nif­i­cantly to bring him back. Both sides have said that this is well pos­si­ble, though, so Hall is ex­pected to pro­vide lead­er­ship and a backup op­tion next sea­son. Gru­den said the team would get him back in time for train­ing camp and “the sooner the bet­ter.”

“He needs to get back quick, but we can’t push him. It’s a fine line there, but we’re ex­cited about DeAn­gelo and the things that he brings not only on the field, but off the field are very im­por­tant for this foot­ball team,” Gru­den said.

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