On Tuesday afternoon D.J. Swearinger Sr. got a text from the safety he’s been having an interception race with this season.
Pro Bowler Ha Ha Clinton-Dix messaged him. "Coming to you, bro,” he said. Swearinger assumed he was talking about their battle for the league-lead in interceptions. He didn’t realize the real meaning until another friend messaged him about the news.
When the Redskins traded for Clinton-Dix 10 minutes before the deadline, the former Green Bay Packer knew he wouldn't be among strangers, as he and Swearinger have had an off-field friendship for a while now.
“We building the chemistry off the field before the season. Talking to him almost every week, we talked about ball, talked about coverages, about how we played each other,” Swearinger said. “Picking each other’s brain. We talked about giving back in the community, a lot of things like that.”
The new safety tandem worked out together in Miami this offseason, sharing tricks of the trade and motivation for the upcoming year.
“Two men who love this game, who play for their families, who play for their friends, who play for their coaches, who play for their teammates and it was all balls-to-the-walls this offseason and we had fun doing it,” Clinton-Dix said. “Like I said, when you're competing with a guy that loves the game as much as you do, you can never get bored in this league."
Clinton-Dix won’t have much time to get bored this week, as he’s preparing to play Sunday. When asked at his first press conference if he’d be ready despite the quick turnaround, Clinton-Dix made it clear he was going to be on the field against Atlanta.
“Check this out. I got practice in about an hour. I came here to play. I came here to work,” he said. “Even if that's on special teams, I'm just helping contribute to this team any way I can, because number 20 is going to be suited up this weekend, and you can bet that."
For starters, Clinton-Dix can contribute his ball-hawking ability. He’s tied for second-most interceptions in the league with three through seven games. That’s just one interception behind the league leader, Swearinger, who is sitting atop the NFL with his four picks.
Having both Clinton-Dix and Swearinger on the field at the same time could help Washington improve it’s interception rate, which sits at a middle-of-the-pack 2.3 percent.
There shouldn’t be too much overlap between the two safeties’ positions either. Looking at their player location charts on Next Gen Stats, Clinton-Dix has played a majority snaps at high free safety on the defensive left, and Swearinger has lined up closer to the line of scrimmage on the right side.
“It helps a lot. It allows me to play strong where I am going to make a lot of plays at strong safety,” Swearinger said. “It’s just my natural ability. So, it’s going to be scary having him back there flying around.”
Having Swearinger closer to the line of scrimmage can only help Washington’s already stellar run defense, as he’s the fifth-highest graded run defender among starting safeties (minimum 300 snaps), according to Pro Football Focus.
In addition to having a spot next to Swearinger on the field, Clinton-Dix gets to stick close to him off the field, too.
When asked where his new teammate’s locker would be, Swearinger pointed to his own double locker.
“Oh no, he’s going to be right here, man. He’s going to be right next to me. They had to ask me that I want to give up my locker. I said it’s cool, got to keep the safeties in the same sequence,” Swearinger said.
Swearinger added that Clinton-Dix was already being initiated into the defensive backs group, affectionately referred to as the Flight Marshals due to their stringent air defense.
“Oh he already Flight Marshal, baby,” Swearinger said. “He’s already, soon as he signed the deal he’s part of the Flight Marshals, man. So, he gotta get a pick so we can really introduce him into the gang.”
With Washington’s already fearsome defense adding more Pro Bowl talent on the back end, there are some lofty expectations as for how high the unit can soar through the rest of the season. Their first challenge will be this Sunday, as Washington will square off with the Atlanta Falcons and their offense that’s averaging 27.6 points per game.