RICHMOND — Two words were all D.J. Swearinger needed to drive the point home. With a steely countenance and a gravelly voice, the Washington Redskins safety delivered his message succinctly but with the same fierce intensity he reserves for the field.
He has been a member of this secondary for only one full season. Yet Swearinger unequivocally believes that this is his defense.
“No question,” he said sharply.
He is the quintessential trash talker, a constant chirper who agitates opposing NFL offenses with his mouthiness and infects teammates with his boundless, effortless energy. Even this early in camp, with no wins or losses on the line, Swearinger is a source of animated intensity that the Redskins collectively feed off all the same.
“Talk about talking trash — this guy is one of the best that I have ever seen,” Coach Jay Gruden said before the start of the morning practice Sunday. “Pulling his helmet, yelling, ticking off the offense, you know.”
On any given day, any skill position player can find himself caught in Swearinger’s sights. Often it’s a Redskins wide receiver who bears the brunt of his antics during one-on-one or team drills. On Sunday, it was running back Byron Marshall who quickly became embroiled in a playful verbal sparring session with the safety during a red-zone period.
“I don’t think you have a choice. He’s pretty loud,” outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “Even a guy with one functional ear like me can hear him. He’s our spark plug. And he always brings the juice.”
Even Gruden — who is known for his playful ribbing on the practice field, too — has fallen victim to Swearinger’s verbal barbs. “I like to go back and forth with Jay all the time because he always kind of starts it, so I definitely have got to try to finish it,” Swearinger said with a grin. “It started with one-on-one drills and it carried throughout the day. Jay, he’s a good trash talker. But he’s not better than me.”
But there’s a method to Swearinger’s particular brand of madness. His need to be loud and always seen and heard is borne out of his sense of responsibility — not only to himself but to the team at large. “We want to be as competitive as possible in camp,” said Swearinger, who made headlines in his first year with the Redskins when he called out the team’s poor practice habits toward the end of the season.
“Offense and defense, we don’t have to like each other in camp. We shouldn’t like each other in camp. …We should be trying to get the best of each other.”
He is a relatively new addition to the Redskins, yet the 26-year-old was tasked with “yelling out all of the checks” on the back end last year, partly because fellow safety Montae Nicholson was sidelined for eight games with injuries. This year, however, Nicholson is healthy and Swearinger is eager to help his typically subdued counterpart ease into a bigger leadership role.
Communication is the key to the unit’s effectiveness, Gruden stressed: “That’s the most important thing a defense can have. They have to be fundamentally sound, know where they’re going, and D.J. is a big part of that for us to have success.”
Cohesion at the safety position is a luxury Gruden hasn’t had of late, but he is excited about seeing a Swearinger-Nicholson tandem for a second straight season. And so is Swearinger, who is aiming to be a part of a special pairing in the seasons to come.
“Any of the good safety tandems in the league, they’ve been together about three to four years, five years,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be better chemistry-wise; that’s what we are working on right now at camp. We just got to take it one day at a time and keep that chemistry going and hopefully we’ll be one of the best one day.”
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