In the National Football League, continuity at any position isn’t easily attained. Which is why when head coach Jay Gruden was asked how it felt to have the same two safeties start at the position for the second straight year, he didn’t mince words.
"Very exciting,” Gruden said. “We’ve had a tough time here finding the safeties. With D.J. [Swearinger Sr.] coming back for his second year, Montae [Nicholson] coming back for his second year, Deshazor [Everett] been here now two or three years, so he’s got some great experience with going out there. It’s a great thing to have, you know, some experienced safeties back there.”
That comfort level has only enhanced with Swearinger, the vocal leader of the defense, who has marked his place at the top of the Redskins defensive totem pole entering his second season in Washington.
The Washington Redskins conducted their fifth day of training camp practice Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
For some, Swearinger’s energetic approach to the game might take adjusting to. But don’t ask Swearinger if he thinks he should tone it down, because for him, that’s basically a sign of disrespect. When asked whether his teammates have ever called him “too intense” during practice, the veteran defensive back was very brash with his reaction.
“Never,” he scoffed. “That would never be the case.”
For Swearinger, playing football with high vocal intensity is the only option. The trash talking and jabs between plays are just layers of icing on the cake.
During a morning press conference, Gruden made it extremely clear that communication on defense is of the utmost importance, and that a lot of that starts with the 26-year-old free safety.
“I think he is doing a great job,” Gruden said. “He's a great communicator, very emotional player you know. Talk about talking trash, this guy is one of the best that I have ever seen. Pulling his helmet, yelling, ticking off the offense. They [defensive backs] have to be fundamentally sound, know where they're going, and D.J. is a big part of that for us to have success.”
Being a part of an array of defensive schemes, Swearinger recognizes the importance of consistent communication on his side of the football. One way he’s approached developing the younger talent is by taking a step back and forcing them to be more verbal during team drills.
“It’s kind of hard for me to not communicate” the veteran explained. “I try to let [Nicholson], hear him a lot, sometimes I try to not say anything so I can get it out of him, but ultimately it’s just me being a leader. As we progress he’s definitely getting better, but I’m going to stay on him, he’s my little brother so he’ll get there.”
After a rookie season riddled with injuries, Nicholson is preparing to make good on all expectations in 2018. When asked if he had an increased sense of comfort knowing that he was the likely starter going into the season, he was quick to retort.
“No,” he said. “I prepare like I’m the last person on the depth chart. I’m asking questions to D.J., to Coach [Torrian] Gray. Really, that’s just the way that I’ve been. You’ve got to prepare like you’re the last man on the chart. I’ve got to have that chip on my shoulder, essentially.”
Redskins Salute and GEICO Military hosted Military Appreciation Day for active, reserve, and retired military service members on Saturday, July 28, 2017, at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond Va.
The pair of safeties look to scheme a lot more creatively this season, playing fast around the ball and making themselves much more unpredictable to opposing offenses. All of those things start with being interchangeable at the safety position. Swearinger thinks that he and Nicholson will be able to do just that. When asked about defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s new scheme for the defensive backs, Swearinger had a very strong endorsement.
“It makes your defense better,” Swearinger said. “It makes your defense kind of confusing [for an opponent] as well. I’ve been on teams where you’ve got your strong safety, and your strong safety is always coming down. That means the offense knows where to rotate to. With us, either of us can come down. That makes the defense better, which makes the disguise better.
“It’s unbelievable what experience can teach you,” he said. “In my first two years, there’s no way that I would have known what I knew now.”
When watching him in action during the first week of training camp, it’s clear that Swearinger's veteran experience is paying dividends for the defensive backfield.