- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2017

If there were ever to be a situation comedy about a Redskins position group, it would have to be the safeties (soap opera is another matter). Just a rag-tag bunch of goofs, trying to figure it out as they go along. There’s Su’a Cravens, the eager young upstart embarking on a new challenge and learning where he fits in. There’s the newcomer, D.J. Swearinger, the only one who has, you know, done this before. And, of course, DeAngelo Hall as the sage, if sometimes ornery, grandfather figure.

The next episode to air? The One Where They Try To Do Better This Time.

There’s that old saying about how you need to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. Most of the Redskins safeties weren’t very lucky last year. And the few that were, weren’t good enough to be contributors at the NFL level.

DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton, the team’s Week 1 starters, both wound up on injured reserve within a month. Bruton was eventually waived. Duke Ihenacho, who was a healthy scratch in Week 1, ended up starting the most games among safeties (10) and played the most snaps, with Donte Whitner and Will Blackmon also in on defense about half the time. Whitner, too, wound up on IR at the end of the season. The Redskins defense ranked No. 25 against the pass and No. 24 against the run.

This year, Cravens is converting from linebacker to strong safety, and free safety Swearinger was signed in free agency. Hall is still rehabbing but the Redskins expect to bring him back at a reduced salary.

How Jay Gruden will fit them all together remains to be seen. If it will work is another question entirely. But one thing is certain, according to Gruden: he knows they’ve got moxie!

“Very productive, brings a great energy,” Gruden said, discussing the Swearinger signing last week at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix. “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. 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.”

“That’s what defensive football is all about; playing as one with great energy,” Gruden continued. “Signing Josh Norman was a step in that direction too because he has unbelievable energy. Pairing him with his high school buddy [Swearinger] is going to be fun to watch.”

Yes, Swearinger and Redskins CB1 Norman go all the way back to Greenwood High School, where they won a South Carolina State Title in 2006. The more interesting pairing, though, may be with Cravens.

Swearinger did well in an Arizona Cardinals defense that played a ton of dime last season. While that means he was on the field for plenty of passing downs, Swearinger was often responsible for defending against the run in case offenses tried to exploit the coverage. He made 64 tackles, three interceptions and two sacks and defensed eight passes last season in 16 games.

Cravens, having been a linebacker, is more of a hitter than a patrolman in the middle of the field so it will be interesting to see how Gruden and Manusky use the tandem.

Gruden, it seems, is projecting that Swearinger will get better at covering the deep middle.

“I think the good thing about D.J. is his ability, his growth,” Gruden said. “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 quarters, he played everything.”

The best-case-scenario for the Redskins is that Swearinger does continue to grow, and that he grows in a direction that further separates his skillset from that of Cravens.

On the other hand, Gruden also said it’s possible Cravens has some untapped range to him. Cravens has only played scout team safety for the Redskins, so they don’t really know what they have yet.

“We want to try and give him every opportunity to learn it and play it and see what he can and can’t do,” Gruden said. “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. 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.”

Then there’s Hall. He’s still rehabbing his torn ACL, and the Redskins would likely need to restructure his contract to lessen its $4.25 million cap hit significantly to bring him back. Both sides have said that this is well possible, though, so Hall is expected to provide leadership and a backup option next season. Gruden said the team would get him back in time for training camp and “the sooner the better.”

“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,” Gruden said.

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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