NFC East: d.j. swearinger

IRVING, Texas – As a big-hitting safety, Barry Church can empathize with Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger.

Swearinger, a second-round pick out of South Carolina, has become somewhat infamous because of a controversial hit that wrecked Dustin Keller’s knee, putting the Dolphins tight end out for the season. Swearinger’s explanation was that safeties have no choice but to aim low when receivers come across the middle because of NFL rules that strictly penalize shots to the head.

“It’s definitely a tough situation that they put us in,” Church said. “If you hit up high, you’re getting fined about $20,000. Nobody wants to lose that. If you hit too low, you’re jeopardizing somebody getting injured, so you’ve got to aim between the chest and the knee.

“But that’s hard. When you’re coming flying 100 miles per hour and they’re ducking their head as well, you don’t want to hit helmet to helmet with them, so you try to go even lower and you risk the injury. At the end of the day, it’s part of the game. If you’re playing inside the rules and you can’t hit high and you’re going low, I see no problem with it.”

The worst thing a safety can do is approach such collisions with hesitation. As Church said, that’s a good way to miss a tackle and get cussed out by your coaches.

Church, like former Cowboys greats such as Cliff Harris and Darren Woodson, takes great pride in punishing receivers who come across the middle. That intimidation factor is a critical element of playing the position, particularly for a safety like Church who wasn’t gifted with great speed.

“You’ve just got to shoot your gun and hope injury doesn’t get involved with it,” Church said. “Once you get a big hit on them, they’re looking. They get alligator arms. When the ball goes up in the air, they short-arm it because they don’t want to get it.

“Making them feel your presence around the middle is huge. It’s huge.”

It’s become a lot harder to do legally with today’s NFL rules.
There are two things to keep in mind when assessing the Washington Redskins' 2013 draft. First, their first-round pick was spent as part of last year's Robert Griffin III deal about which they have no regrets. And second, the work they did in free agency to bring their 2012 roster back almost completely intact meant that they didn't feel compelled to use the draft to address immediate needs. They returned their entire starting offensive line intact, they retained their starting cornerbacks at reduced salaries, and linebacker London Fletcher put off retirement for a year. The only position at which they may have felt the need to find a Week 1 starter was free safety.

That's not to say positions like right tackle or cornerback couldn't use an upgrade. But given the constraints imposed by the second year of the salary-cap penalties, the Redskins did enter this year's draft with relatively few obvious holes to fill. So instead, they took players with upside -- guys they think have a chance to be great in the long term as opposed to adequate in the short.

[+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesCornerback David Amerson was drafted with the future of the Redskins' secondary in mind.
Cornerback David Amerson, selected in the second round with the Redskins' first pick of this year's draft, needs help staying disciplined in coverage and must work on his tackling. But he knows how to make a play on the ball, and Mike Shanahan believes that's a lot harder to coach into someone than those first two things are. Amerson doesn't need to play much this year, with Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall starting and E.J. Biggers as the No. 3 corner. Get him with secondary coach Raheem Morris and see if he can shore up the trouble areas and make him into something special.

Tight end Jordan Reed, the third-rounder, is basically a great big wide receiver who can line up as a "move" tight end the likes of which more teams are using these days. It's odd that Shanahan took such a poor blocking tight end, since he prioritizes blocking even among his wide receivers, but Reed is another guy who's shown an ability to make big plays and create mismatches in opposing secondaries. Deployed correctly, he could help make the offense more explosive.

Safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo were fourth-round and sixth-round selections, respectively. Because the position is vacant, it's not crazy to think either or both could compete for the starting free safety spot this year. But that's not the main reason they were picked. Shanahan took these players because they represented good value at their slots and played a position at which his roster is thin. He's playing the percentages with guys who were playmakers in college, and if one of these two ends up being a starter, that'll help this look like a good draft in retrospect. If both do, he's struck gold.

Running back Chris Thompson and pass-rushing outside linebacker Brandon Jenkins, both taken in the fifth round, were good college players whose value dropped due to injury. Seventh-round running back Jawan Jamison played through an ankle injury last year at Rutgers and left school early to try to help pay the medical bills for his mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. These three represent depth (with upside potential) at positions where there's no such thing, in Shanahan's eyes, as too much depth.

This Redskins draft is a perfect example for those who say you can't grade a draft until three years down the road. It's possible that literally none of these picks pan out. But most of them were picked because they carry at least a chance of becoming stars, and when you can find potential stars in the middle and late rounds (and you already feel you have a deep roster), that's what your draft goal becomes.

Redskins fans might feel better if they'd grabbed an immediate starter at safety in the second or third round. D.J. Swearinger may have fit that description and was still on the board when they took Amerson. The fact that no offensive linemen were taken has stirred some concern, but the Redskins drafted mid-round offensive linemen last year and are still developing guys like Tom Compton and Josh LeRibeus. No crying need to add to that depth just yet. The Redskins approached this draft like a confident division champion that likes its roster and was looking for high-end talent it felt was being drafted too late. That's what they took, and now it's on their coaching staff to make this 2013 draft look good.

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