The Redskins struggled at the safety positions in 2016, dealing with position changes and injuries, and the front office moved early in free agency to address the back end of the secondary.
Washington signed D.J. Swearinger away from the Cardinals in the opening days of the 2017 league year.
Swearinger will likely join second-year Redskins player Su'a Cravens in the back of Greg Manusky's defense. Cravens played linebacker as a rookie, but word came out late last season he would play safety in 2017.
Both Swearinger and Cravens are playmakers and big hitters, but the question has emerged if either player contains the speed neccessary to keep up with some of the elite receivers that play in the NFC East. At his USC Pro Day in 2016, Cravens ran a 4.69 40-yard dash. At the NFL Combine in 2013, Swearinger ran a 4.67 40-yard dash.
For Redskins coach Jay Gruden, there isn't much reason to worry.
"Knowing Su’a, I don’t think there’s a lot of things he can’t do so I’m excited to see him back there," Gruden told to reporters during the NFL League Meetings. "I think he’s going to have a lot more range than people give him credit for right now. He didn’t run the greatest 40 time, but he plays fast on the football field and that’s more important."
Gruden allowed that the team has some questions with Cravens simply because he hasn't played safety yet in the NFL. Other Redskins players have voiced plenty of confidence in Cravens' ability in the back end, and much of his work from college would suggest he should be capable.
Swearinger has a stronger track record at safety, though he's also on his fifth NFL team since being drafted in the second round in 2013 by the Texans.
"D.J., when you watch him in his career, he maybe disappointed a little bit early, but last year I think he played as good as any safety in the NFL," Gruden said. "He’s done it in different spots, wasn’t just a box safety, he played in the hole, he played half the field, he played corners, he played everything. Very productive, brings a great energy."
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Beyond Swearinger and Cravens, the 'Skins have options on the roster in Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett and DeAngelo Hall.
"That’s the one thing with D-Hall, when you watch him play safety he sticks his face in there. He’s a very physical guy so we have to get him right," Gruden said. "We have Will Blackmon who came a long way last year too and Deshazor. I really liked what he did when he came in the game. We matched him up against tight ends and he had a big interception against Philadelphia. He did some good things. He’s a factor on special teams so he won’t be going anywhere."
Hall's offseason will be interesting to watch. The former Pro Bowl cornerback has dealt with injuries in each of the last three seasons and is still working on his conversion to safety. In the NFL since 2004, Hall acknowledged he might have to re-work his contract to stay with the team, but most signs point to that happening.
Improved safety play, and just improved tackling from the safety position, could lead to an improved Redskins defense this fall.
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