D.J. Swearinger idolized Sean Taylor while growing up in Greenwood, South Carolina. That’s not the only reason Josh Norman’s high school teammate is aware of the Redskins’ safety woes ever since Taylor’s tragic death in 2007.
The Arizona Cardinals played the Redskins last season. Swearinger and fellow safety Tony Jefferson didn’t just focus on Washington’s offense. The free-agents-to-be studied their counterparts.
"Last year, me and my guy Tony Jefferson was looking at this roster like, 'For sure one of us is going to the Washington Redskins.' It just happened to be me," Swearinger said after Wednesday’s OTA session. "I told [Jefferson] I wanted to come here. But for sure last year we were watching it on film like one of us is going to Washington for sure."
Here's another easily drawn conclusion, even though the regular season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field is not until Sept. 10: Once you look past the likes of quarterback Kirk Cousins, Norman and Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, Swearinger is one of the truly key players on this roster.
Not saying best, but key. That’s because the soon-to-be 26-year-old might finally help solve Washington's safety issues. Those issues were on full display last season with a hodgepodge of ill-fitting pieces struggling.
That's because the four-year veteran will play alongside Su'a Cravens as the 2016 second-round pick transitions from linebacker to strong safety.
That's the Redskins need to reclaim the middle of their defense. The selection of defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and the signing of inside linebacker Zach Brown are nods to that desire. Same goes for adding the assertive and solidly-built Swearinger.
"In football, you've got to protect the middle," the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder said. "You have to have the safety in the middle that puts fears in quarterbacks and wide receiver’s eyes."
Nobody feared last year's safety group. Just a little film work revealed that.
"Just from watching it from where we were in Arizona and just how we played ball at safety, you could just tell they needed help at safety," Swearinger said. "Whether it was a missed tackle, a guy not making a play on the ball, there were just a lot of inconsistent plays that we seen on film just from watching one or two games here or there."
Originally drafted by Houston in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the University of South Carolina product signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract -- $6 million paid out in 2017 – with the Redskins in March.
The Texans reportedly tried trading Swearinger before eventually releasing him in 2015. Some suggested poor play. Discussion of attitude concerns was mentioned. Whatever happened then isn't a thing in May of 2017 with the Redskins.
"No concerns whatsoever. D.J. has been great," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "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. He can do a little bit of everything. … I have no questions about his character."
Though capable of playing free safety, the Texans used Swearinger closer to the line of scrimmage. With the Cardinals, his third team in four seasons, Swearinger moved back into a centerfield role and matched his career total with three interceptions.
"(With) Houston I never got a chance to play in the middle. Last year I got the opportunity to play free safety, something that I was comfortable with and I was able to show my range," he said.
Soon enough those who watch the Redskins will grasp that the new free safety wearing Taylor’s No. 36 could be a long-awaited answer. Even if he’s not a Pro Bowl-level safety, simply upgrading the position in 2017 while putting fear into quarterbacks and receivers will be just fine.