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Commanders safety Darrick Forrest is ready to ‘boom every time’

Commanders safety Darrick Forrest, a special teams ace in 2021, is looking for a more consistent role on Washington's defense this season. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Darrick Forrest was 10 yards deep before punter Tress Way booted the ball downfield. Twenty, 30, 35, and then it happened.

Roughly four minutes remained in the Commanders’ loss in Kansas City on Saturday when Forrest sprinted in punt protection and not only collided with Chiefs returner Skyy Moore but bear-hugged him and flipped him 90 degrees in the air before he landed on his side. Forrest’s tackle prevented Moore from gaining more than a yard on the return and ensured the Chiefs started their drive on their 19-yard line.

“The thing about Darrick that you like is that he is a high-impact guy,” Coach Ron Rivera said. “He runs around. He runs into things. He is physical by nature, and he’s got tremendous athleticism.”

Forrest, a second-year safety with the Commanders, played only 28 defensive snaps last year and was deemed more of a special teams ace, a role he still holds. He was a rookie in development who could maybe land more.

But in offseason workouts and training camp this year, Forrest has emerged as a playmaker and even a leader on a defense still in transition. Washington has tweaked its scheme, but it has been running more match-zone principles on the back end and has a base that’s now 4-2-5, with four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.

The job of the secondary in Jack Del Rio’s defense is complicated, requiring on-point communication and a strong knowledge of responsibilities. Forrest can play strong and free safety in addition to his work on special teams. But he has been in the mix this summer for the fifth defensive back spot, typically the team’s big — or “Buffalo” — nickel, who is more of a hybrid linebacker/safety and can drop down in the box or fall back into coverage.

The player needs to be able to cover. He needs speed. (Forrest ran an unofficial 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day at Cincinnati.) And he has to want to hit.

Many players can hit. Not all want to.

Forrest loves it.

“It’s an energy thing,” he said. “If I come up to somebody … I’m going to try to make the big hit. It’s going to bring energy to the team, and momentum is everything.”

Last year, when Forrest played limited snaps, his growth was dependent primarily on film study and observation. Though he has the frame to be the versatile athlete Washington needs at Buffalo nickel, his growth has come in his understanding of the game, the scheme and his role within it.

“It's been my mind, my mental game,” he said. “I'm going out there, I can look at the formation, I can look at the personnel, and I can know what's going to happen. So it starts with preparation. So I feel like I'm more prepared this year.”

Much of that stems from film study. It was in high school when he first started to watch game tape, though looking back his notion of studying then is a far cry from what it is now.

“My defensive coordinator in high school was always on me,” Forrest recalled. “Like, ‘Oh, you watching film?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And then he checks the iPad and [is] like, ‘Oh, you watch a little bit, but you weren’t really watching film.’ ”

In college at Cincinnati, Forrest learned the nuances of what he was watching. At the pro level, his study habits have become even more detailed to grasp the concepts and further understand why he’s asked to do what he does.

And after an offseason regimen that focused less on weightlifting and more on on-field work, Forrest said he has dropped a bit of weight but not enough to be noticeable.

“I’m still going to boom every time,” he added.

That has all combined to help him discover a place of comfort with the Commanders, where the things that slowed him down in the past are now second nature.

From 2021: Washington rookie Darrick Forrest bet on his NFL future. He’s waiting for his sister to pay up.

At 23, Forrest has heeded the advice of the veterans in the room, including safeties Bobby McCain and Kamren Curl and cornerback Kendall Fuller. Landon Collins was a notable resource last year, too; he played more linebacker late in the season but was the team’s primary Buffalo nickel.

“Everybody’s always just giving me bits and pieces that can help me,” Forrest said. “[Collins] was a guy that made sure that you can’t do nothing wrong because you have a standard. And once you [set] that standard, everybody has to play to that standard.”

Now, Forrest has a bigger voice. A voice earned with perhaps a bigger role and the comfort that shows in his play. In camp, he was often the one with Fuller, flying around in coverage and snagging interceptions that brought the defense off the sideline in cheers.

The overthinking and hesitancy that often slow rookies have seemingly faded.

“I’m way more comfortable this year, so it allows me to play my game the way I can in this scheme,” he said. “I’m playing a little bit faster right now, so I feel like I just got to keep making plays.”

In the first two preseason games, Forrest played 48 total snaps and started in Kansas City as Washington’s big nickel. He has also taken snaps on the line, in the box, at free safety, with both the kick and punt coverage teams, on kick returns and with the field goal team.

When the Commanders pare their roster to 53, Forrest hopes to contribute even more. To lay more of those big hits on special teams but to also have a consistent impact on defense.

“He took a big step from last year,” Rivera said. “He’s a guy that has an opportunity to contribute to the every-down defense or in situations. … We feel very comfortable with him.”