With training camp set to begin next month, Redskins.com previews the current state of the Redskins' roster, continuing today with the team's safeties
The Washington Redskins will enter Richmond with two new starters at the safety position in D.J. Swearinger and Su'a Cravens, hoping to provide more explosiveness and playmaking ability at the position than in years past.* *
ROSTER SUBTRACTION(S):- Donte Whitner Sr.
- David Bruton Jr.
- Duke Ihenacho
- D.J. Swearinger
- Montae Nicholson
CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIT:
The safety position was a revolving door last season, a patchwork of young and old, experience and inexperience, which made it tough for the secondary to find unity.
Entering training camp last season was DeAngelo Hall, still adjusting to his transition to safety from the previous year, and free agent acquisition David Bruton Jr., brought in for some veteran help from the Broncos.
They remained at the top of the depth chart at the beginning of the season, but in the third game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium, both would suffer injuries that landed them on Injured Reserve. That precipitated more changes and shuffling.
Washington signed Donte Whitner Sr. and Josh Evans to help fill the void and provide depth, while Will Blackmon split time at safety with Duke Ihenacho, after converting prior to the season, leaving DeShazor Everett to fill in where necessary. It was, by all measures, not an ideal rotation.
Ihenacho and Whitner, the most experienced of the group, ended up tied for fifth-most tackles on the team, but both went un-signed by Washington in the offseason, as did Bruton Jr., who wouldn't play another game for the team after suffering his Week 3 concussion.
Part of those decisions came with the confidence the team had in rookie Su'a Cravens, a safety at USC that mostly played in a dime linebacker role with the Redskins. Near the end of the season, even as he struggled with injuries, he began working with the defensive backs unit, a way of mentally preparing him for his second season where he is likely to be starting at strong safety.
The team also made a free agent splash by signing D.J. Swearinger, who had played with three different teams over the last four seasons, most recently with the Cardinals last year, providing an instant upgrade at free safety, a position at which he feels his most comfortable.
Blackmon and Everett will return with a year of experience under their belts. Everett made an impression at the end of last year with his first career interception in a game against the Eagles, while Blackmon continued to be a reliable presence, collecting 41 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
Check out images of safety D.J. Swearinger during his first few months with the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins also got a head start in building their future at safety, selecting Montae Nicholson in the fourth round of the draft. He is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum he suffered throughout his junior season at Michigan State, but expects to be back at some point for training camp.
For the Spartans, Nicholson contributed 86 tackles, two for a loss, with an interception and two passes defensed last season. Over his three years there, he collected 200 total tackles, four picks and a forced fumble.
Washington kept Evans on the team and added undrafted free agents Fish Smithson and Earl Wolff IV to fill out the roster and provide some more competition within the group.
WHAT TO WATCH:
One of the question marks at the top of the depth chart is when and how DeAngelo Hall will return to the Redskins at safety. Since tearing his ACL in New York last September, he has sowly built his way back, but it's unclear when or if he will participate in training camp.
"I think he was gaining momentum the more he played safety and I was kind of excited to see him play and then he went down with the injury," Gruden said. "Now it's just a matter of how well he recovers and I can't predict that. That's going to be up to D-Hall and the trainers. If he comes back at full-strength, we'll see what he can do and where we are at the safety position."
With Swearinger now in the fold at free safety, the Redskins feel confident they have an enforcer that knows the position and will be able to align the secondary properly. Head coach Jay Gruden even said during OTAs that he believes Swearinger could be one of the best safeties in the league this year.
"He just looks like a safety back there," Gruden said. "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. He has got a lot of talent. We know that he's a physical guy, but as far as coverages and breaking up things, he's got a lot of confidence and I think he's going to really, really emerge as a top safety not only for this team but in this league."
The biggest question remains how Cravens will adjust to safety in the NFL. It's been hard to know exactly how his progression is going from an observational status during offseason practices, but the switch from linebacker, despite his experience in college at safety, will still take some adjusting.
"Su'a's been doing a great job," defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. "Like I said, I've been pleasantly surprised. We knew Su'a could play down to the ball, tackle guys, blitz and those things. He's been a pleasant surprised, playing in the half field, playing in the post and showing some anticipation and things like that. I've been very pleased with him until this point."
Gray has been instrumental in helping veterans such as Will Blackmon hone their technique that may have been taken out of focus in previous seasons. Blackmon lamented that last year, his transition to safety came without much attention to learning the actual position, a byproduct of the injuries and philosophy of Perry Fewell.
With Gray, he and Everett, and just about everyone in the defensive backs room for that matter, have appreciated the return of focus to technique.
Depending on when Hall and Nicholson return, there should be some competition between the two of them for the backup roles, assuming Cravens and Swearinger take command of the first team defense. Evans will also likely have an opportunity, battling with rookies Smithson and Wolff, while fighting to make an impression on special teams, too.
"I do know everybody's name is in pencil and whenever they say that, it's kind of a good thing because it's not permanent yet," Evans said. "Everybody kind of competing, everybody knows that risk, everybody know we have a lot safeties, a lot of corners, a lot of people that's competing to make this 53 man roster. But the good thing is you get to see another day. You know you get to come into camp and showcase what you do, you know put it on tape and compete at the highest level."
REDSKINS IN RICHMOND: