Fill­ing safety need, Swearinger finds match with Red­skins

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

When D.J. Swearinger and fel­low Ari­zona Car­di­nals safety Tony Jef­fer­son watched film or broke down ros­ters last sea­son, they did so with the un­der­stand­ing that they would likely join one of those other teams as free agents soon enough.

The Red­skins, with their on­go­ing prob­lems at safety, stood out.

“Watch­ing it on film we was like, ‘Bro, one of us is go­ing to Wash­ing­ton for sure’,” Swearinger said.

“Just from watch­ing it from where we were in Ari­zona, just see­ing how we played ball at safety, we just could tell they needed help at safety,” Swearinger said. “Whether it was a missed tackle or a guy not mak­ing a play on the ball.”

Swearinger was right, and Wash­ing­ton signed him this off­sea­son. (Jef­fer­son went to nearby Bal­ti­more.) Af­ter in­con­sis­ten­cies of his own for his first three years in the league, Swearinger par­layed a ca­reer year in in­ter­cep­tions (three), passes de­fended (eight), sacks (two) and solo tack­les (56) last sea­son into a new deal.

“I felt I was able to fi­nally get my fair op­por­tu­nity [in Ari­zona],” Swearinger said. “Ever since I left Hous­ton, you know, I never got the fair op­por­tu­nity to play right away or to even get on the field and do what I’m ca­pa­ble of do­ing.”

Hous­ton drafted Swearinger in the sec­ond round of the 2013 draft but cut him af­ter two years, re­port­edly in part be­cause Swearinger didn’t want to play spe­cial teams. Swearinger made a cou­ple of head­lines off the field in Hous­ton, most no­tably when his dog bit Jade­veon Clowney and when he was accused of steal­ing his own truck from a deal­er­ship with­out pay­ing for cus­tomiza­tion work.

Swearinger went to Tampa, where he was cut in Novem­ber of the 2015 sea­son, then wound up in Ari­zona, where he was signed to the Car­di­nals prac­tice squad but was soon pro­moted to the ac­tive ros­ter where he re­mained for his break­out year in 2016.

Swearinger mostly felt con­fi­dent en­ter­ing free agency, in part be­cause he’d been able to show­case him­self play­ing in the deep mid­dle part of the field, where he’s hap­pi­est, in Ari­zona. The Tex­ans had mostly played him at strong safety. He still wor­ried, though, that parts of his rep­u­ta­tion could turn teams off of him.

“Pre­vi­ous teams la­beled me a bad guy, a char­ac­ter-is­sue guy and I think that harmed me a lit­tle bit,” Swearinger said. “Some coaches, you know, were scared to take chances here or there but I think ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son.”

The Red­skins do have an out from Swearinger’s con­tract, which should pay him an an­nual av­er­age of $4.5 mil­lion over the next three years. The team could re­lease Swearinger with a post-June 1 des­ig­na­tion af­ter the sea­son and save $3 mil­lion against the salary cap. But their experience with Swearinger thus far does not in­di­cate that they would want to use it.

“D.J. has been great,” said coach Jay Gru­den. “He’s been to every meet­ing, every prac­tice and prac­tices hard. He’s got a great at­ti­tude for the po­si­tion. You can tell he’s got a mind­set to play safety.

“I think you’re go­ing to see more of D.J. Swearinger when the pads come on and he’s tack­ling more so than you are now. But I think he’s been great. I have no ques­tions about his char­ac­ter.”

Swearinger has been the Red­skins start­ing free safety through spring work­outs and mini­camp, with Su’a Cravens at strong safety. As Cravens makes the switch over from line­backer, Swearinger has of­fered in­struc­tion and ad­vice.

One week, dur­ing or­ga­nized team ac­tiv­i­ties, tight end Ver­non Davis got be­hind Cravens and burned him for a touch­down dur­ing an 11-on-11 drill. Swearinger was quick to Cravens’ side, ges­tur­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as he ex­plained to Cravens how to tell when he needs to get more depth.

A week later, dur­ing mini­camp, Kirk Cousins tar­geted Davis with sim­i­lar throw. Cravens had the right depth, broke up the pass, and Swearinger romped to his side, shout­ing praise with en­thu­si­asm.

“D.J. is a leader,” said sec­ondary coach Tor­rian Gray. “He’s in­tense. He’s the one who kind of gets the group to­gether and kind of says a lot of things to get us go­ing and brings that juice and brings that at­ti­tude, so it’s been great hav­ing D.J.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Wash­ing­ton Red­skins free safety D.J. Swearinger will make $4.5 mil­lion a year over the next three years.

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