The Redskins found consistency at free safety in 2017 with the addition of D.J. Swearinger, the team's vocal leader and defensive force that will look to build off his first year in Washington.*
From the moment training camp began, it was clear Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger was going to make an impact.
It began with his vocal nature, taking over as a defensive captain in his first year with the team and leading pregame huddles and calls out on the field. His experience in the league – playing for three previous teams – suggested it might be hard for teammates to buy in, but Swearinger proved to be the consistent force and inspiration on defense the Redskins had lacked over recent years.
"I look forward to becoming a better leader, becoming a better teammate and better for my guys," Swearinger said at the conclusion of the season. "Whatever I had personally in my season stats, if we didn't go to the playoffs, whatever I did, it wasn't good enough. Maybe I got to do a little more. Maybe I got to get it out of other guys to do it a little more. That will take time, it won't happen overnight. It takes time, it takes bonding."
Swearinger did have a career year. He started all 16 games (for the first time as a pro), a distinction held by few on the Redskins this year, and collected a career high with 79 tackles. He shared the team lead in interceptions with four, including two against the Vikings, and outperformed his previous individual record with 10 passes defensed.
Swearinger believes that this offseason will provide him a better opportunity to build on the culture he helped establish last year. Organizing group workouts with the defensive backs and initiating the kinds of habits earlier in the year will only help when the team reconvenes for the season.
"Me being the captain, knowing all the guys, I definitely want to train with the guys this offseason at least about two weeks around OTAs or anytime just to get the chemistry going early off the field so when we get on the field it's easier," Swearinger said.
Still, the free safety remained disappointed with the way the season finished, a product of injuries, some of which he felt could have been avoided with better personal care. Swearinger, throughout the year, was outspoken about his frustrations with the team's performance and practices, and let the media know.
"I didn't think guys took care of their body themselves," Swearinger said. "As a pro you've got to take care of your body yourself. You're not supposed to wait until it happens to you to get treatment. You're supposed to prevent injuries. I don't think as a group we did that as much as other teams I've been on."
Swearinger did admit that a good amount of the injuries experienced came on freak plays, but emphasized his own health regimen – a switch to a pescatarian diet and staying more hydrated – as a way of helping him recover faster after games and reducing inflammation, quelling smaller strains and injuries.
It's an area he'd like to see improve next season, especially after it significantly impacted both sides of the football and the team's eventual playoff push. Without a pair of inside linebackers and missing various parts of the defensive line and secondary at key points made continuity on defense a challenge.
"Just getting our guys healthy back, getting our guys to understand that we have to prepare and focus every week, week in and week out," Swearinger said. "We had a tough schedule this year. There were games where you really needed to focus and you really needed to prepare well to win. We didn't win the ones we needed to in certain situations, whether it was on the defensive side, offensive side, or special teams. We've just got to find ways to win those big games in big situations to try to get ourselves over the hump and give out team the confidence that we can win the big games and we can win in primetime. I think if we do that next year and we have a team mindset that we can win every game and know how to prepare to win every game, we'll be fine."
After playing for his fourth team in five years, Swearinger is glad to have an offseason of certainty, knowing he'll return to a place in which he's familiar and to teammates with whom he has a history. After some vacationing to the Bahamas and maybe Thailand, he said, Swearinger is looking forward to take the next step in Washington.
"We do have a lot of talent in a lot of areas," Swearinger said. "In the offseason, we will add whoever we need and whoever the front office sees fit. I think we have a lot of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I think the sky is the limit for our defense. I think the first year was a learning year for us. For me, it was learning this system and learning how everybody works together. Moving forward, we'll try to better that."