As the Redskins look to get the defense back on track during the 2017 season, young safeties D.J. Swearinger and Su'a Cravens will look to make an impact with DeAngelo Hall providing leadership.
When the 2016 season concluded for the Washington Redskins with a bitter loss to the New York Giants at FedExField, the team immediately started the annual evaluation process to seek improvement on the roster.
One of the areas of focus was the team's safeties, as they rotated players in and out of the lineup throughout the season.
Washington was forced to waive 2015 sixth-round pick Kyshoen Jarrett – who was one of the team's real bright spots during his rookie season -- with a failed physical designation in July. Then, Week 1 starting safeties DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton Jr. were both placed on Injured Reserve within the first month of the season.
That left the Redskins to sign Donte Whitner Sr. and Josh Evans in October, pairing them with Duke Ihenacho and cornerbacks-turned-safeties Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett.
While Hall is on the mend from a torn ACL and Blackmon and Everett remain under contract for the 2017 season, Washington already feels better about their safeties with the addition of free agent D.J. Swearinger and the full-time move for Su'a Cravens.
Swearinger was signed within the first 24 hours of free agency opening up earlier this month, as Washington was able to agree to terms with the 2013 second-round pick.
While Swearinger played for three different teams in his first four seasons, he's coming off his best year in 2016. The South Carolina product posted personal bests in passes defensed (eight) and interceptions (three).
"I think the good thing about D.J. is his ability, his growth," Gruden said this week at the NFL's annual League Meetings in Phoenix. "I think 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, quite frankly. 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."
Another positive aspect that attracted Gruden to Swearinger is the energy his brings to the table.
"Just talking to him and shaking his hand for the first time, you just had a good feeling about the sense of how much he loved football," Gruden said. "The history, even the Sean Taylor and the Redskins and all that, you can tell he loves playing safety and he's going to be a good one."
While Swearinger will work more at free safety, Cravens will move back to the strong safety position after being a situational linebacker in his 11 games as a rookie.
Cravens only played safety with the scout team in 2016, but the Redskins "want to try and give him every opportunity to learn [the safety position] and play it and see what he can and can't do."
"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 said. "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."
Behind the two young safeties will be Hall, who is currently the oldest player on the Redskins' roster and the team's longest tenured member.
Hall is returning from last September's injury, and while he's going to turn 34 years old in November, Gruden would like to see him back on the field for training camp as he continues his development at safety after a fruitful career at cornerback.
"Even though he's an experienced player, he's not experienced at the position he's competing to play," Gruden said. "He needs to get back quick, but we can't push him. It's a fine line there, but we're excited about DeAngelo and the things that he brings not only on the field, but off the field are very important for this football team."