D.J. Swearinger is making heads turn in Houston Texans training camp, literally and figuratively. With his forearms covered in wristbands, the rookie out of South Carolina refers to himself as a wild boy of sorts with a dream to play professional football.
Swearinger, who responds to 'Swagg' as his childhood nickname, is not just all talk. The second-round pick is being praised for his work ethic which, he says, is a product of his upbringing.
"I have always had to work hard for everything that I have received," he recalls. "Since I was little, my parents always told me hard work pays off. That's something I take pride in and I do every day."
Swearinger's motto is "Hard work beats talent when talent isn't working hard." The 22-year old puts his motto to work in his preparation each day, watching film and becoming a true student of the game.
"It's just doing what I got to do. Learning. Learning the playbook every day. Going hard on my reps. Taking advantage of every opportunity that I get and just making plays," said Swearinger. "That's something that I've been doing since high school, college and the more you know about this game whether its offense, defense or special teams, I think the better overall player you'll be."
Working alongside eight-year veteran Danieal Manning and All-Pro safety Ed Reed, Swearinger feels his learning curve will be shorter than most rookie safeties. Reed has given him both life advice and football-related advice, "things a lot of people probably wouldn't talk to you about." As for the on-field lessons, Reed has helped Swearinger learn aspects of the game that can only come with experience for most players.
"Slowing the game down a lot, a lot of man-to-man techniques, just learning the full defense instead of just what I'm doing," Swearinger said of his education with Reed.
In training camp, Swearinger's role is still being defined. Under Wade Phillips' 3-4 hybrid scheme, the rookie is involved in various sub-packages on the field. Swearinger says the linebacker role allows him to use his instincts and athleticism to intensify his style of play.
"It gives me the ability to use my aggressiveness. I'm an aggressive player, very instinctive player. Being in the box, I can use my athletic ability down with those bigger guys to get to the ball," he said.
Under head coach Steve Spurrier, the South Carolina defense produced nine defensive players, four of which were defensive backs, in the draft over the past three years. Swearinger was the third-straight South Carolina DB to be drafted in the first three rounds from 2011-2013. The Gamecocks' eleventh-ranked defense is projected to have the top overall selection in the 2014 draft with defensive end JaDaveon Clowney. Playing in Spurrier's prolific defense has helped Swearinger make the transition from college to professional football with relative ease.
"It helped me a lot," said Swearinger. "In college I played every position in the back end so it helped me a whole lot. Coach Spurrier threw a lot of things at us and I guarded (receivers) in the slot too so it helped me a whole lot. Just a lot of different looks from coach Spurrier and me playing a lot of different positions helped me with the game mentally over all."
As for special teams, the rookie safety plans on contributing in a big way.
"I'm the wing guy on special teams and that's a very big role," he said Monday after practice. "That position, stat-wise, gives up the most blocks. I'm on the kickoffs, just about all the special teams. I see myself playing a very big role in special teams."
By his third day of training camp, Swearinger even had the AP Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt, taking notice.
"I hear him every now and then," Watt said Sunday. "I hear the chirping from the back end and that's good. That means he made a play and any time he is making plays that's good for our defense, so that's fine by me."
With training camp underway for the Texans, Swearinger is fired up to be back on the field. He works hard at his craft and his style of play is infused with his love for the game.
"I've been playing all my life," said Swearinger. "Anytime I get the opportunity to play football and do it at this level especially, my dream and my goal, it's a blessing. I love doing it and, like I said, my emotions come out."