WASHINGTON — For the first time in almost a decade the Redskins have a pair of young players at a safety position that has far too often been held together with duct tape.
High draft picks haven’t panned out (LaRon Landry), unheralded journeymen have come and gone (Reed Doughty) and converted cornerbacks have struggled to adapt to the position (DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon).
Add in a few past-their-prime veterans (Ryan Clark, Dashon Goldson) and Washington hasn’t had a true impact safety since the tragic death of Sean Taylor in 2007 despite cycling through dozens of options.
At Wednesday’s organized team activities (OTAs) session, the Redskins sent the first-team defense onto the field with a pair of young safeties. Second-year pro Su’a Cravens, a second-round pick in 2016, is shifting from dime linebacker, where he played as a rookie. Free-agent signing D.J. Swearinger was at free safety – though he’s a heavy hitter probably best suited to strong safety.
“Once you’re a safety, you gotta be a safety and you got to communicate regardless – whether he played linebacker last year or whether I was here last year,” Swearinger said. “The safety role has to be a big communicator, he has to be a leader. You have to be on top.”
It remains to be seen if the Redskins have solved their issues at safety. Swearinger insists he can play free safety and was used that way at times by the Arizona Cardinals. Washington coach Jay Gruden likes the versatility both players give his team.
Meanwhile, Hall is still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee sustained in Week 3 last season, Blackmon was primarily a reserve after shifting from corner and fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson is out a few more months with a shoulder injury. Josh Evans was a three-year starter in Jacksonville, but will have to scrap just to make the 53-man roster, and Deshazor Everett is seen as more of a special-teams ace. Safety hasn’t exactly been solved, but with Swearinger, 25, and Cravens, 21, there some upside to go with that youth.
“No offense to the previous safeties we’ve had before, but I just think D.J. is to a level in his career right now where he’s got a lot of confidence,” Gruden said. “He has got a lot of talent. We know that he’s a physical guy, but as far as coverages and breaking up things…I think he’s going to really emerge as a top safety not only for this team but in this league.”
Swearinger, who grew up in the same hometown as Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (Greenwood, S.C.), was signed as a free agent after a nice season in Arizona. But he took time to get to that point. He was a second-round draft pick by Houston in 2013, but cut after just two years thanks to clashes with teammates and coaches and inconsistent play.
“I always wanted to be a Redskin because of my idol, Sean Taylor,” Swearinger said. “I like this fit. I actually wanted to come here when I got drafted so when I seen that offer on the table, I went for it.”
Cravens had a nice rookie season and Washington’s coaches insist he plays faster than his 40-yard dash time indicates and can hold up at safety. There will be an adjustment period for him, but the Redskins believe Cravens can handle it.
“He still has a ways to go, but I think Su’a has got a great chance to be a very good safety because he can play in the box and if he shows us the range that we think he might have, he can be very versatile,” Gruden said. “And D.J. [Swearinger] can come down, he can play back, whatever. It’s a good mix.”
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