Swearinger fits right in to sec­ondary

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

ASH­BURN | At the end of the Red­skins’ sec­ond day of OTAs, mem­bers of Wash­ing­ton’s de­fense posed to­gether for a group pic­ture. Safety D.J. Swearinger rushed over to see how it turned out.

The new­est mem­ber of the Red­skins de­fen­sive back­field wanted to see what he looked like as part of the group.

On the prac­tice field, Swearinger has fit right in.

Swearinger signed a 3-year, $13.5 mil­lion deal with the Red­skins in March af­ter two sea­sons with the Ari­zona Car­di­nals.

The 25-year-old safety has prac­ticed with the Red­skins’ first unit, slot­ted next to Su’a Cravens at free safety.

Swearinger said he’s ready to bring

phys­i­cal­ity and more.

“A guy who can be a leader,” Swearinger said of what he can bring.”I’m go­ing to be sort of the quar­ter­back on the de­fense, for sure. My study habits, me know­ing the game. Just my vi­sion. I be­lieve I’m go­ing to be a hard-nosed leader, a force in the mid­dle.”

If that pans out, Swearinger would present a much needed so­lu­tion for the Red­skins.

The safety po­si­tion has been a re­volv­ing door un­der Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den and even be­fore him. Duke Ihenacho and David Bru­ton lacked the cov­er­age skills to shore up the de­fense. DeAn­gelo Hall has a great foot­ball mind, but he spent most of his ca­reer play­ing cor­ner­back. Vet­er­ans Bran­don Meri­weather, Ryan Clark, Dashon Gold­son and Donte Whit­ner all took a shot.

The Red­skins have a tal­ented cor­ner­back group in Bashaud Bree­land and Josh Nor­man, whom as it turns out, played high school foot­ball with Swearinger. But the cor­ners need help for the sec­ondary to be more than just ad­e­quate.

“No of­fense to the pre­vi­ous safeties we’ve had be­fore, but I just think D.J. is to a level in his ca­reer right now where he’s got a lot of con­fi­dence,” Gru­den said. “He has got a lot of tal­ent. We know that he’s a phys­i­cal guy, but as far as cov­er­ages and break­ing up things, he’s got a lot of con­fi­dence and I think he’s go­ing to re­ally, re­ally emerge as a top safety not only for this team but in this league.”

Build­ing Swearinger’s con­fi­dence took time. In his pre­vi­ous four sea­sons, Swearinger had been with three teams.

Swearinger, who ex­celled at South Carolina, was drafted by the Hous­ton Texans in the sec­ond round in 2013 and was slot­ted to play strong safety be­cause of the tal­ent ahead of him. He was ini­tially cast in dime pack­ages, and ended up start­ing 22 games for Hous­ton.

But Swearinger was out of his com­fort zone and strug­gled. His most no­table mo­ments in Hous­ton were hits in the pre­sea­son on Dol­phins tight end Dustin Keller and Den­ver Bron­cos re­ceiver Wes Welker. Keller suf­fered a torn ACL, MCL and PCL on a low hit from Swearinger and Welker suf­fered a con­cus­sion.

The Texans moved on from Swearinger, re­leas­ing him in May 2015. The fol­low­ing sea­son, the safety failed to make an im­pact with the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers and was waived.

When Swearinger joined the Car­di­nals in De­cem­ber 2015, he was able to de­velop. Sud­denly, the years of play­ing strong safety helped him and he was able to roam the mid­dle of the field as a free safety. He had a ca­reer-high three in­ter­cep­tions last sea­son.

“(Free safety) fits my style of play, be­ing back in the mid­dle,” Swearinger said. “Be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate with guys and go­ing from side­line to side­line, that fits me well. I’ve been suc­cess­ful the last cou­ple of years do­ing that.”

The an­a­lyt­ics web­site Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus ranked Swearinger as a top 10 safety last sea­son af­ter he started play­ing full time from Week 5 on. With Swearinger, the Car­di­nals fin­ished third in pass de­fense in de­fense-ad­justed value over av­er­age (DVOA), an­other ad­vanced met­ric used to equal­ize ef­fi­ciency against a league base­line.

Swearinger’s path wasn’t the eas­i­est, but he can rely on his ex­pe­ri­ence. He said he can use it to help Cravens, who is en­ter­ing his sec­ond sea­son and played mostly line­backer last year.

But Swearinger said he likes the Red­skins de­fense be­cause of the group’s po­ten­tial to make big plays. Swearinger wants to be the one who makes sure they’re made.

“The free safety has to be the most vo­cal guy be­cause he sees ev­ery­thing,” Swearinger said. “I’m al­ways in the mid­dle so a lot of re­ceivers, they’re not go­ing to be lurk­ing in the mid­dle when they see me back there.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Wash­ing­ton Red­skins safety D.J. Swearinger had a ca­reer-high three in­ter­cep­tions last sea­son with the Ari­zona Car­di­nals, but he said he likes the Red­skins de­fense be­cause of the sec­ondary group’s po­ten­tial to make big plays.

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