ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins didn’t feel the need to get too many outsiders to boost their secondary in the offseason. Rather, they hope their draft class from a year ago provides solutions.
That means they'll be relying on safety Su'a Cravens and cornerback Kendall Fuller, both of whom worked with the starters in various capacities in the spring. Cravens played as a nickel/dime linebacker last season while Fuller worked in the slot.
But Cravens was moved to safety -- his more natural spot -- at the end of the season. Fuller struggled and was benched, but he’s also a year further removed from microfracture knee surgery and, coaches said, moved better in the spring than he did last season. Perhaps it also helps that the Redskins’ new secondary coach, Torrian Gray, was Fuller’s position coach at Virginia Tech.
Gray’s arrival helps the entire group, which was unhappy under previous secondary coach Perry Fewell. They like how Gray corrects them on the spot and preaches more about the details. But the secondary will be helped, too, if Cravens plays safety well and Fuller shows he can handle the slot during the season.
During the Redskins’ minicamp earlier this month, Gray said Fuller was the one player who jumped out most to him.
“He’s been the one guy that has really impressed me,” Gray said. “The guy I saw on film last year and the guy I’m seeing now is a lot different player.
“The biggest thing is him being healthy. He’s making plays on the ball, playing cerebrally. He’s playing like the Kendall Fuller we expect him to be.”
With Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland on the outside, the Redskins need someone to handle the nickel duties inside. They also drafted Josh Holsey in the seventh round, so he’ll get opportunities there. Quinton Dunbar plays only on the outside. Rookie Fabian Moreau offers versatility, but because of a torn pectoral muscle, he could be out until late August -- or later. That leaves Fuller, a third-round pick in 2016 who would have gone higher if not for the surgery.
As for Cravens, he starred at safety at USC before moving to linebacker and playing more of a hybrid role. The Redskins used him at linebacker last season, hoping his speed would result in him making plays. At times it did, but the reality of physics hurt: His weight dropped to 215 pounds during the season, and him having to take on offensive linemen became more difficult.
He did say playing linebacker helped teach him more about other players’ assignments, something that will help at safety. But he admitted it isn't his first choice.
“I don’t like playing linebacker,” Cravens said. “I’ll play it if I have to. I think I can play linebacker, but safety is my position.”
Cravens received reminders in the spring about life at his old position -- more about making sure to get the proper depth based on certain looks from the offense. Getting proper depth helps him read the play better and allows him to -- in theory -- take better angles to the ball.
“You know the rules, know your assignments -- don’t get cocky and try to jump something," Cravens said.
Gray said he was “pleasantly surprised” by how Cravens handled the deep-half duties at safety in the spring. Cravens showed last year that he can move forward well, making plays chasing the ball.
“He plays with great anticipation,” Gray said. “The main thing is playing with depth. If he gets his depth, he has great reaction.”
Both Cravens and Fuller must continue their progress this summer, especially when the preseason games begin. If that’s the case, the Redskins will have two young players who can solidify the secondary.