There was only one way for Darrick Forrest to celebrate the Washington Commanders' season finale win over the Dallas Cowboys. Before he jogged off the field and into the locker room, Forrest did a backflip, which is his normal method of capping off a victory.
"It was tough, I ain't gonna lie," Forrest said during the Commanders' locker room clean out. "The body was banged up. I had to get the last one in, though, especially in front of our home crowd."
Forrest does not go through similar acrobatics for his own personal success, but the second-year safety could have put on a whole routine off all he accomplished this season. After all, leading the team in interceptions and finishing second in tackles (88) and pass breakups (9) must equal a lot of backflips.
Even someone as humble as Forrest cannot deny that he "balled this year," but he is more focused on improvement over reflecting on his past triumphs.
"I really wanted to show my brothers that they can trust me," Forrest said. "Next year, it's just gonna be improving the little things, anything that I felt like I missed this year, just correcting and getting better."
If Forrest showed anything in his second season, it is that offseason work can pay off. He went from someone who was mostly a special teams player in 2021, which was the result of being on Injured Reserve for almost half the year, to one of the better pieces in Washington's secondary.
Flash forward to his second season, and Forrest was receiving the bulk of first team reps in OTA and deflecting passes in training camp. That growth did not go unnoticed by his coaches, either.
"He took a big step from last year … He's a guy that has an opportunity to contribute to the every-down defense," Rivera said during training camp.
That prediction turned out to be true, particularly with Kam Curl missing the first three games of the season. The Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was the first start of his career, and not only did he record five tackles and two pass breakups, but he also secured the game-winning interception.
"Before the season, it was unknown," Forrest said of his skill set. "Like, 'What is Darrick Forrest gonna be this year?' It was just about opportunities, and I made the most of my opportunities. I'm just proud to be in this position right now."
Creating turnovers soon became a common occurrence for the young safety, as he often found himself in the right spot to make plays. He had a pick and a fumble recovery in Washington's Monday Night Football win over the Philadelphia Eagles, both of which helped swing momentum back into the Burgundy & Gold's favor, and he grabbed another interception off a tipped pass during the Houston Texans game a week later.
His fourth interception, which came during the Commanders' Christmas Eve game against the San Francisco 49ers, led to a touchdown.
"You've seen him take that step forward on the mental aspect of the game," said coach Ron Rivera. "He's a very bright young man. He's very eager, he practices the right way. He wants to see it and walk through it. If he's wrong, he wants to see it again."
Forrest was playing at such a high level during the Commanders' 6-1 run in the middle of the season that Pro Football Focus gave him the second-highest grade for a safety behind only Curl. At the time, his pass coverage grade was the third-best among all safeties.
"I think the evolution of DeFo is the game slowing down, and he's starting to recognize formation, starting to recognize split, starting to recognize back field sets," said defensive backs coach Chris Harris.
Perhaps some people were surprised by the way Forrest played this season, but the former fifth-round pick is not among them.
"I would say that I feel like I did accomplish a little bit more than people hoped out of me," Forrest said. "I'm just proud that I came out there and showed that I can ball."
The team's success, in addition to his own, makes Forrest hungry to get to work this offseason. He already has a goal for 2023: get more interceptions.
"I might be on that jugs machine as much as I can," Forrest said. "You can never have too many."
And hopefully, there will be more backflips in Forrest's future.
"We're right there on the border," Forrest said. "It's time to take that next step, though … We're gonna keep pushing. Next year, playoffs are the goal."