As the Redskins effectively kick off the 2017 season with the start of training camp there will be few positional battles as interesting as the safety group. The position has undergone a somewhat significant overhaul from last year when the starting group consisted of a mix of Donte Whitner, Will Blackmon, DeAngelo Hall, and Duke Ihenacho. This year the presumptive starters will be free agent acquisition D.J. Swearinger and Su’a Cravens who played linebacker last year. This new group brings a bit of hope and tons of potential but also a lot of questions.
Swearinger can play both safety spots but is no doubt known as more of a box safety. As a second round pick of the Texans back in 2013. He entered the league being somewhat revered for his physical play out of South Carolina but never lived up to expectations with the Texans. He bounced around with the Buccaneers before landing with the Arizona Cardinals, essentially rejuvenating his career. Swearinger's instincts and range will no doubt be tested often in the NFC East with the numerous divisional threats the team will face. As we all know, the Redskins have not had a true free safety since the tragic death of Sean Taylor. Over the years Redskins fans have seen the importance of this position in the form of crushing defeats and blown plays. Watching Swearinger in coverage in training camp will be important to get a sense of if he can keep up with the turnaround with his career trajectory.
Last week I wrote about Su’a Cravens and how I believe he has star potential but still has a lot to prove at the position. The points I’ll reiterate are that Su’a has a unique and versatile skill set that I believe will make him a very special player as a box safety. He has athleticism, coverage skills, physicality, and good hands. Put him in a position to attack the ball and you won't regret it. Where I think we need to see great strides from him are how he plays in space. I want to see him stick with a TE over the middle and down the seam. I want to see him recognize a play from his zone, work his way to the ball and make a play. I’d also like to see him attack the LOS and make plays against the run. We got a small taste of those skills last year. This year it is about consistency for the young safety.
If both presumed starters live up to their billing placed on them by the coaching staff and fans the Redskins should have a competent and adequate Safety corps.
Returning to the team at the position are several players that will be competing for backup roles but no doubt could find themselves on the roster bubble. DeAngelo Hall is a savvy vet but his body has failed him for the past couple of years. It was thought at the time when he switched from the cornerback position to safety it would help him mitigate those injury/physical concerns. It hasn't been so and the vet will hopefully have to prove he can still run with the young guys and contribute not only as a backup but also on special teams.
Will Blackmon is also another veteran returning to the position who also is a former cornerback. Blackmon seems to have a bit more gas left in the tank and could push for one of the backup spots. Blackmon started the majority of the games last year at safety and is probably one of the few returning players that has had extended play at the position. I look for Blackmon to be a key contributor on special teams if he makes the roster.
Deshazor Everett is a young player who primarily has made his mark on special teams up to this point with the Redskins. He could also make a push for a backup role. He recorded his first NFL interception last year with the team against the Philadelphia Eagles and I love him for it.
The Redskins selected a safety this year in the 4th round out of Michigan State named Montae Nicholson. Not much is known about him other than he has great physical skill. It is my expectation that Nicholson competes for a roster spot and he should win one given his ability and draft status. However, he will certainly be one to watch in coverage drills during camp. With all that I’ve read and heard about him, he should be the best athlete at the position if not one of the best on the team. I want to see this guy against Jordan Reed not because I think he can get the best of Reed but because I want to see how he sticks with an exceptional athlete as well.
Entering camp already on the roster bubble will be Josh Evans, Earl Wolff, and Fish Smithson. In all honesty, I think Hall will be in the group as well. Last year the Redskins carried 5 safeties on the roster. My premature prediction is that Cravens, Swearinger, Blackmon, Everett, and Nicholson round out this year’s group. A group like this would signal a switch in experience and youth, something the Redskins traditionally have not gone with at the position which is why this prediction could be completely wrong. If this is the case though it would be an exciting time for the group even with their collective inexperience because it would signal possibilities not seen with the group for some time.
Entering training camp what is the biggest area of concern for the Safety position?
This poll is closed
Coverage and range
Physicality and tacking
Youth and inexperience
Athleticism and physical skills
Turnover creating ability