LANDOVER, MD — Before each practice, D.J. Swearinger huddles Washington Redskins players together and delivers his daily message.
Sure, Swearinger is a six-year veteran, but this is his first season with Washington. Becoming a vocal leader just came naturally.
“It’s just my personality,” Swearinger said. “That’s just my personality to get guys to buy in to do the right things so we can make winning a habit here.
“That’s what I try to do with calling the defensive meetings or calling (a huddle) up before practice. Just trying to get everybody’s minds on one focus and that’s to go 1-0 every day.”
The Redskins are 5-8 and out of the playoff race but will try to follow that lead and go 1-0 Sunday when they face Swearinger’s previous team, the Arizona Cardinals, that’s holding on to only faint postseason hopes.
In a short period of time, the 26-year-old safety has become the Redskins’ emotional center, bellwether and conscious in a season that has gone awry.
It was Swearinger who questioned the team’s preparation after consecutive blowout losses without any trepidation about the blowback. His comments about bad practice habits Sunday in Los Angeles weren’t frustration, he said, they were facts.
“If you don’t play well in the game, it’s obviously from practice,” Swearinger said Wednesday. “A lot of stuff’s been said about what I’ve been saying. It’s not going to change what I’m saying. It’s the facts of it. Guys on this team have to practice better, and if we don’t practice better, we’re going to get the same results. Period.”
Swearinger earned the right to speak his mind through hard-nosed play this season. He crushed Marshawn Lynch with a big hit when the Oakland Raiders came to town and has never shied away from contact.
No wonder players are eager to follow Swearinger.
“He plays the game so hard,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s very passionate about the game, and I think the players respect that a ton.”
After playing parts of two seasons with Arizona, Swearinger figures he’ll have “extra juice” Sunday. He said the Cardinals made a contract offer and retracted it, so he circled this game on his calendar.
“It’s not that I want to show out in front of my own team,” Swearinger said. “It’s more I want to make a lot of plays in front of my old team.”
Some things to watch when the Cardinals visit the Redskins:
O-LINE SHUFFLE: Once again, the Cardinals are being forced to make personnel changes along the offensive line.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer fractured an ankle against Tennessee and became the third starter on the O-line to go down with a season-ending injury, joining tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Mike Iupati. Rookie Will Holden is the fourth player to start at left tackle. In addition, right guard Earl Watford is out with a high ankle sprain.
Holden’s only other start was at left guard in Week 4. Evan Boehm, who started the first five games before losing the job to Watford, will be the right guard. The only lineman to start every game is center A.Q. Shipley.
“I’m the glue that sort of holds everything together,” Shipley said.
REDSKINS’ RUN GAME: With three running backs on injured reserve, Washington’s ground game is firmly in the hands of rookie Samaje Perine. That’s because second- and third-string running backs LeShun Daniels and Kapri Bibbs have combined for 31 career carries.
With a banged-up offensive line, the Redskins have rushed for a combined 121 yards the past two weeks. Staying committed to the run has proved difficult.
“You just want to try to stay a little bit balanced,” coach Jay Gruden said. “You can’t be throwing it 100 times a game, although sometimes you want to. But I think try to get Samaje some looks, try to get our offensive line to come out of their stance and try to get some movement on the defensive line. It’s necessary for us to be successful.”
AGELESS FITZ: At 34, Larry Fitzgerald is fourth in the NFL in receptions with 87, behind only Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Jarvis Landry. He has 922 yards receiving, so he’s a good bet to be the first player age 34 or older to top 100 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving for a season.
Last week he moved past Randy Moss into third on career receiving yards, behind only Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens. In three games at Washington, Fitzgerald has 20 catches for 339 yards and two TDs. Of his five touchdowns of at least 60 yards, two have come in his past two road games against the Redskins — 62 yards in 2008, 73 yards in 2011.
KICKER BY ANY OTHER NAME: Redskins kicker Nick Rose is already auditioning for a job next season now that Dustin Hopkins has a possibility of returning from a hip injury. Rose has made 10 of 11 field goals since replacing Hopkins.
“Injuries happen, you have somebody come replace you, then when you come back off the injury, there’s going to be some competition there,” Gruden said. “That’s what it’s going to be like.”
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