Redskins want D.J. Swearinger to talk less -- but not in the way you think
RICHMOND D.J. Swearinger’s booming voice can be heard often throughout training camp, chirping at the offense and motivating the defense.
When the Redskins safety couldn’t hold on to a diving interception which would have been his second of the day he popped up and immediately threw his helmet on the ground.
“Stop playing with me!” he yelled.
Swearinger, with his competitive drive and nonstop mouth, has been the emotional leader of the Redskins defense since joining the franchise in 2017. The 26-year-old said Sunday he takes pride in getting his teammates into the right defense on the field.
This year, the Redskins hope to hear a little less of Swearinger.
“He just carried a great burden with us last year probably too much of a burden that he shouldn’t have to,” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said, explaining that the veteran took on multiple roles last year because of injuries and inexperience.
As a safety, Swearinger reads the opposing offense, coordinating coverage with the other safety, the linebackers and the cornerbacks. But with Washington’s growing pains and changes at safety last year, Swearinger spent most of the season assuming the pre-snap responsibilities of his partner, too.
In the process, he played a team-high 99.6 percent of the defensive snaps.
“Our major emphasis on OTAs and minicamp,” Gray said, “was ... ‘Hey, you and the safeties, Deshazor [Everett], Troy Apke, Montae Nicholson,’ whoever is there, we’ve got to be able to communicate more so it’s not all on D.J. to make communication on both sides.
“We’re not afraid to take charge so he doesn’t have to do it.”
Swearinger had a fine year for the Redskins. He was explosive to the ball, recording 78 tackles and four interceptions. Coach Jay Gruden especially valued Swearinger after the position had been a weakness for years.
Still, Gray said Swearinger will be able to play “freer” and be more productive if the other players do their fair share.
Swearinger, too, acknowledged his plate was full. He recalled watching film recently and noticing he was still communicating after the play was snapped.
“I’m just putting my mouthpiece in when I’m making a play,” Swearinger said. “When it gets to that point, that’s when I’m doing too much. I need help.”
To ease the load on Swearinger, the Redskins need Nicholson, Washington’s other starting safety, to take a step forward in his second year. The 2017 fourth-rounder had a stellar rookie season but missed half the games with an assortment of injuries. And when he was healthy, Nicholson was still learning the pace of an NFL game.
Nicholson said he knows he needs to be more of a leader to keep Swearinger from being overextended.
The Redskins like their safeties to be versatile, reacting to opposing offenses. The plan this year is for Nicholson to expand his game. Besides taking on a more vocal role, the Redskins plan for Nicholson to play more in the box (he played mostly free safety last season).
“There’s extra communication and responsibilities he’s gotta do,” Gray said of Nicholson. “But it’s helping him grow as a football player. It’s going to make us better as a defense.”
As Nicholson and the others develop, Swearinger who Gruden said is one of the best trash talkers he’s ever seen will continue to taunt the Redskins’ offense in camp. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The offense and defense, we don’t have to like each other in camp,” Swearinger said. “We shouldn’t like each other in camp. It should be competitive. We should be trying to get the best out of each other. That’s only going to make us bigger and better in the longer run.
“You know, once the season starts we’ll look back on that and laugh at it.”