WASHINGTON — The Redskins have done their best to stabilize the safety position this offseason with the signing of free agent D.J. Swearinger, but questions remain at that spot.
Second-year pro Su’a Cravens will move there from linebacker, DeAngelo Hall is still rehabilitating from a torn ACL in his right knee, and Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, Earl Wolff and Josh Evans, a three-year starter in Jacksonville, are on the roster, too.
With Swearinger, still just 25 and with 34 career starts, the hope is he has time and room to improve and that he is far more versatile than given credit for. That’s important given Washington doesn’t know about Hall’s health, Cravens’ adjustment to safety or really much else about the position right now. Houston reportedly cut Swearinger for maturity issues on and off the field. He also didn’t play particularly well there. It takes a lot for a team to give up on a second-round draft pick. But he found himself with Arizona and did well to re-establish himself.
“Maybe disappointed a little bit early, but last year I think he played as good as any safety in the NFL, quite frankly,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said at the NFL owners’ meetings last week in Phoenix. “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.”
Swearinger, from the same South Carolina high school as Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, was a second-round pick in 2013, but the Texans cut him during the 2015 offseason. He signed with Tampa Bay and lasted just seven games before finishing 2015 with Arizona. Swearinger finally showed some growth there last season in 12 starts with three interceptions and two sacks.
Cravens is a tougher decision for Washington if only because he’s really only played safety for the scout team at the NFL level. Does he have the speed to hang in coverage as a safety? Will he be disciplined enough to make the switch? He won’t even turn 22 until July 7. There’s also time for him to grow.
That alone if progress for the Redskins, who too often in recent years have tried a patchwork approach at the position. They switched Hall and Blackmon from cornerback, they signed free agents (Jeron Johnson) who didn’t work out, traded for safeties who were older (Dashon Goldson) or whiffed on younger safeties who both couldn’t stay healthy and couldn’t hold the coaching staff’s confidence (Duke Ihenacho).
That too often left them scouring the waiver wire in the middle of the season (Donte Whitner). Even when they drafted a safety who looked promising, they couldn’t catch a break (Kyshoen Jarrett) thanks to serious injury.
So Cravens and Swearinger give the Redskins a chance to develop two players and keep them together for a while. Swearinger signed a three-year contract and Cravens is in the second year of his four-year rookie deal. That doesn’t mean Cravens will start in 2017 – yet. He’ll have to earn that under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
“We want to try and give him every opportunity to learn it and play it and see what he can and can’t do,” Gruden said. “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. 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 [at the 2016 NFL Combine], but he plays fast on the football field and that’s more important.”
Blackmon started six games at safety last year and can be counted on to give a professional effort. At age 32, he’s an ideal reserve right now and was a nice find on the waiver wire in 2015 for Washington as a cornerback.
But Hall, too, will be given the chance to show he’s recovered from his torn ACL. Hall told 106.7 The Fan’s Chad Dukes on Tuesday that he thinks he can still play and is happy the organization has publicly said it will give him the chance. Hall missed most of 2014 with a torn left Achilles tendon, returned and switched to safety in 2015, but injured his knee in Week 3 against the Giants.
“[Hall is in] a unique situation. He’s obviously a great leader for us. He’s coming off the injury so it’s important for him to get back,” Gruden said. “We have to get him back for training camp and the sooner the better because he’s still playing a position that he hasn’t really played a lot of. Even though he’s an experienced player, he’s not experienced at the position he’s competing to play. He needs to get back quick, but we can’t push him. It’s a fine line there.”
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