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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

The Danger Zone: The Washington Secondary

DJ Swearinger wears number 36 for a reason. 36 was the number of Redskins legend, Sean Taylor, who Swearinger idolized growing up, wore during his rookie season. But Sean Taylor’s impact on Swearinger goes deeper than just a number. From the way Swearinger tapes up his facemask as Taylor used to, to the way Swearinger roams around the secondary; Taylor’s influence is undeniable. And from the way Swearinger has been playing this year, it’s clear he’s the best safety the Redskins have had since Taylor’s passing.

Swearinger is enjoying the best season of his career and is putting up numbers that would make his idol proud. Through Sean Taylor’s nine-game 2007 campaign, he recorded 42 total tackles, five interceptions, nine passes defended, and one forced fumble. Through the first seven games this season, DJ Swearinger has posted a stat line of 32 total tackles, four interceptions, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one sack. Swearinger’s impact on the Redskins defense is more than just these gaudy numbers. He is the heart and soul of the secondary, and even though it’s only his second season in Washington; he’s a team captain and locker room leader.

Swearinger has been dominant, backed up by Pro Football Focus ranking him as the top-rated safety in the NFL. And after trading a fourth-round pick to the Packers in exchange for the second highest rated safety in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Redskins have the most formidable safety duo in the NFL. Clinton-Dix also models his game after Taylor, as he wore the famous number 21 for the Packers.

Sean Taylor is looking down and smiling. Not only because the Redskins safeties are arguably the best in the league, but because they model their game after the Redskins legend.

Looking at the depth of the Skins secondary, one player who has gotten an unexpected amount of screentime is second-year hybrid linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons. Standing at 6’4” and 230lb., Harvey-Clemons possesses a Kam Chancellor-esque prototype strong safety build rather than your stereotypical middle linebacker. Harvey-Clemons’ unique size and athleticism make him an incredible asset for Washington. Because he can play in and out of the box, Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky is given significantly more flexibility with his defensive playcalling as Harvey-Clemons’ versatility eliminates the need for frequent personnel changes.

Fourth-round pick Troy Apke, who was recently placed on injured reserve, has displayed flashes in the preseason until a hamstring injury sidelined him for the season. An athletic phenom, Apke will have great mentors in Clinton-Dix and Swearinger who only help the Penn State product develop into a capable starter in the coming years.

Second year standout Montae Nicholson has been reliable at strong safety. But his lingering injuries prompted the ‘Skins to move for Clinton-Dix. He’ll have to get healthy, and when he does, he’ll be a great young depth player that the Skins could roll out three-safety sets with or he can give Swearinger and Clinton-Dix rest.

Rounding out the group is Deshazor Everett, who has been in Washington since 2015. Last year Everett has his best season in the league recording 62 tackles and becoming a rotational player for the Skins. This season he has not seen as much action but with injuries to Nicholson and Apke, and Clinton-Dix learning the system, is in line for more action.

Swearinger recently proclaimed, “I am the best safety in the league and I’ll continue to prove that,” last week after recording two interceptions against the Giants. This weekend’s game against the Falcons high octane offense gives Swearinger and the rest of the flight marshals another great opportunity to show that they are legit.

-Sean, Greg, Mason

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