HOUSTON -- Safety D.J. Swearinger doubled over with laughter when I reminded him of one of the best stories about his high school days.
There was a sophomore goofing off in the locker room before a big game during Swearinger's senior year. Two of his Greenwood High School teammates, including Texans defensive end Sam Montgomery, told Swearinger what was happening. Swearinger walked over to the kid and told him to calm down. He told him three times and then the kid piped up to tell Swearinger he couldn't talk to him like that.
"My reflex, I just hit him with a little smack," Swearinger said. "That’s all she wrote. He played good."
The Texans rookie has been a leader in every step of his football career. Now he'll get a chance to become one on the highest level of the sport. Swearinger will make his first NFL start this week in Kansas City in place of Danieal Manning, who suffered a knee injury and is having surgery today. Manning went on injured reserve this week.
When the Texans waited for free safety Ed Reed to be ready to play, they started Shiloh Keo in his place. The assumption then was that Swearinger, the Texans' second-round draft pick, wasn't ready yet. On Thursday Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said the actual reason was that Swearinger's natural position is strong safety, not free safety.
"He plays fast," Phillips said. "He’s a quick learner. He makes mistakes but he corrects them. Whenever it is, in the game or practice, whenever, he’s really gotten better and better as he’s gone along. I think he’s ready to play so that’s a good thing for us."
Since he arrived in Houston, Swearinger's confidence has impressed his teammates and coaches. He practiced like a veteran.
But he's learning one thing about leadership at this level. It takes actions, not words.
"It’s like starting over again," Swearinger said. "Having to earn your stripes, earn your respect. Making plays to be the leader. You gotta do stuff to be a leader in this locker room."