Technically, D.J. Swearinger returned to the Cardinals last season, but it wasn’t until Christmas Day, and the veteran safety wasn’t dressed for the team’s season finale.
So for Patrick Peterson, it was the preseason opener this year in which it really felt like Swearinger – loud and brash – was back. Specifically, it was Swearinger’s raucous pep talk before the game.
“It was out of control, and we had to pray right after (it was over),” Peterson said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Whoa, how do we pray after this one?’ ”
Swearinger’s reputation is of volume. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who was with the Texans when Houston drafted Swearinger in the second round, called the rookie version of Swearinger the loudest he’s ever coached. It’s impossible not to hear Swearinger, whether it be his teammates, his opponents, or the world when Swearinger takes his blunt tactics into the media.
For this, Swearinger makes no apologies.
“It just happens. That’s just my character,” he said. “I’m a fiery guy, an energy guy. It naturally comes out to be the sparkplug of the defense and guys buy into it. It can give a lot of guys energy that don’t have energy for the day. That’s just me.”
Swearinger will bellow when his defensive teammates create a turnover. He’ll chirp at offensive players if he thinks they’re talking too much or taking advantage of either him or a teammate – including in the offseason, when the offensive players are fellow Cardinals. He’ll be demonstrative after a big hit, which he has proven good at – both the hitting and the celebrating.
What this reputation has done, however, is drown out Swearinger the player. He is a video junkie, studying his position more than most. He has been overlooked – in Swearinger’s eyes, all the time – as a top safety. But he emerged after a bumpy start to his career during his first go-round with the Cardinals, going from a brief stint on the practice squad in 2015 to a starter in 2016, leading to a big free-agent contract in Washington.
“They see me as the hitter, the trash-talker,” Swearinger said. “A lot of people don’t like that. They envy those types of guys. I’m going to be myself regardless of what people think. Only God can judge me. So what people say goes in one ear and out the other.”
But he believes recognition will finally come this year, after back-to-back four-interception seasons in Washington.
He probably still should be with the Redskins, cut late last season after he publicly questioned some coaching moves, despite being one of the team’s best players. The Cardinals were thrilled to scoop him back up with the top waiver claim in the league, a Christmas present for the 2019 roster.
Swearinger, who was cut from both Houston and Tampa Bay earlier in his career when those teams felt his production didn’t match his attitude, acknowledged he was humbled by the move. He noted all the things he learned in Washington, about the business of the NFL and “things to say and things not to say.” But he also has said multiple times how happy he was to have returned to the Cardinals.
“He’s calmed down some since Houston,” Joseph said. “It’s a fun game and it’s an emotional game, so I don’t mind that.”
Swearinger will team with Budda Baker for what the Cardinals believe is one of the top safety tandems in the league – a duo that has more pressure on them now that the cornerback situation has gone through upheaval, facing Patrick Peterson’s suspension and Robert Alford’s broken leg.
“He can seem like a loudmouth guy, that he doesn’t really listen, but he takes all the coaching, he listens, he helps the young guys and he does everything he has to do to be the player he wants to be,” Baker said. “I think it’s great. That’s how he is. He has a lot of passion for the game.”
That passion isn’t going anywhere, humbled or not. That’s what makes Swearinger who he is.
“Whether it may get me screwed, I’m always my brother’s keeper,” Swearinger said. “If you’re going to be loud and boisterous, it’s going to be loud and boisterous for the right reasons. It’s not singling anyone out. My guys make a play, I’m going to let it be known. I make a play, I’m going to let it be known. You got to have some swagger about it.”
Images from Tuesday's practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center