As LB Su'a Cravens learns Redskins' defense, certain traits emerge

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins don’t want to place too much on rookie Su'a Cravens, including expectations. As defensive coordinator Joe Barry reminded everyone last week: Cravens is still just 20 years old and learning a new role.

The Redskins drafted Cravens, a safety at USC, to provide help as a linebacker in their nickel and dime packages. He’s listed as a safety, but is far more suited for the role Washington has for him than as a traditional starting safety. Cravens is bigger than many safeties, but runs better than a lot of linebackers. That combination, the Redskins hope, can make him effective as a nickel/dime linebacker.

“I have to be careful with that because a guy like that you can do so many things with,” Barry said. “You can play him at inside backer, you can play him at outside backer and rush him off the edge or drop him into coverage. You can play him in the slot in a nickel position and do a bunch of things with him.”

The first thing the Redskins must do is help him learn the defense. Cravens has worked primarily with the No. 2 defense throughout the spring, but you can see why they like him near the line of scrimmage.

He's just faster (4.65 40-yard dash at his pro day) than most inside linebackers. Once he gets comfortable with the defense and reading NFL offenses, that speed should be more evident.

For now it’s visible, for example, in how quickly he drops after faking a blitz through the interior. Wednesday, he lined up in the "A" gap and dropped into coverage. If he plays as they hope, his versatility will provide another subtle disguise for a coverage or a blitz.

I liked his reaction to a bootleg; Cravens changed directions well and covered his man. There are definitely times his man, whether a running back or tight end, gets a step on him, but you can see the skills that led to him being drafted in the second round. That's what a team builds upon. Spring is the time for optimism and hope for any team and it’s no different when it comes to Cravens and the Redskins. In college he was an instinctive player, which allowed him to maximize his speed (something not all players can do).

“He’s a special one in the sense that he has God-given football awareness and instincts,” Barry said.

“He’s got natural stuff. Plus, he’s a great athlete, he’s tough, he can run, he can tackle, he can hit, he can blitz, he can play coverage. The sky is the limit on what we can do with him.”