A group instilled with leadership, experience, and a nack for creating turnovers were primed for a breakout year led by veteran D.J. Swearinger Sr.
As the safety position was one of the healthier groups throughout the season, 2018 fourth-round selection Troy Apke was unfortunately placed on IR due to a hamstring injury that limited him to only two games. The Penn State product was expected to contribute mightily on special teams, where his speed and ability to tackle will potentially become a major asset for new special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor. When Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix was added prior to the trade deadline, it seemed the Redskins solidified one of the strongest safety groups in the NFL.
Here’s a look at the unit’s season:
In a season where the defense had 26 takeaways, which tied for ninth best in the NFL, the turnover of who was playing next to whom in the secondary seemed paramount.
As the Redskins began 2018 with a relatively similar group as 2017, returning their top free and strong safeties to coach Greg Manusky's defense, they then added Pro Bowler Ha-Ha Clinton Dix at the trade deadline.
Clinton-Dix, the fifth-year man out of Alabama and 2014 first-round selection, made the Pro Bowl in 2016. He made the transfer from NFC-foe Green Bay to Washington in October via a trade that sent a fourth-round pick back to the Packers.
With the burgundy and gold, Clinton-Dix tallied 55 tackles, with three passes defensed while forcing and recovering one fumble. In total, he made 79 tackles (second highest total in career), while recording three interceptions.
In his Redskins debut Week 9 against Atlanta, Clinton-Dix made five tackles.
Alongside Clinton-Dix was 23-year old ball-hawk Montae Nicholson. After flashing immense promise in 2017 by showcasing his range and tackling ability, Nicholson took a step back in 2018.
After appearing in 14 games, starting seven, Nicholson made 26 tackles (14 solo), while defending one pass. After struggling in the first half of the season, the coaching staff felt a boost was needed as the trigger was pulled on trading for Clinton-Dix. This also allowed Nicholson to move back to his natural role as a "center-field" defender working at free safety.
However, after Week 9 Nicholson only logged four defensive snaps and his season ended abruptly after an off-field incident. He will use 2019 as a bounce back season as both he and his fellow safeties look to learn under new defensive backs coach Ray Horton.
Fourth-year man and "do it all" safety Deshazor Everett played a large role on both defense and special teams in 2018. The 6-foot, 195-pound former Aggie contributed 10 tackles (two for loss), with one pass defensed. In Week 17 against Philadelphia, Everett enjoyed his best performance of the season after seeing his role increased.
Through Weeks 1-16, Everett logged 65 defensive snaps, with just 13 coming in coverage. In contrast, he recorded 341 on special teams. In the final game of the season, Everett received more defensive snaps than he had logged all season with 69, including 33 coverage snaps and 34 run defense snaps. Everett was targeted six times against the Eagles,and while he allowed six catches, he displayed his sound tackling ability, allowing just 52 yards total on the day. He also had notched an interception, making the most of his limited opportunities.
D.J Swearinger Sr. provided 53 tackles while notching one sack, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles but was waived near the end of the season.
Late season additions Harlan Miller and Jeremy Reaves logged minimal time on the field, but earned key practice reps as they head into OTA's with a chip on their shoulder looking to earn the eye of head coach Jay Gruden.
This unit, now led by Horton, may undergo changes via free-agency and/or the draft.
Clinton-Dix is a free agent, but the Redskins may choose to invest another contract in him considering thefourth-round draft pick they gave up to acquire him. They may also look to the draft again to help build some depth should Clinton-Dix not re-sign.
The prior mentioned Apke looks to 2019 as his "rookie season" after sitting out 14 of the 16 matchups on IR. After posting freakish numbers at the 2018 NFL Combine that included a 41-inch vertical jump, and a 4.34 40-yard dash time that led NFL legend Deion Sanders to say "Oh, he can run, run," Apke eyes the upcoming campaign as his breakout year.