When the Washington Redskins took Southern California linebacker Su’a Cravens in the second round of this year’s draft, defensive coordinator Joe Barry received a shiny new toy loaded with talent, athleticism and versatility.
Barry’s mind goes on while dreaming up ways to use Cravens, a player the defensive coordinator has had his eye on since 2010 when Cravens starred at Vista Murrieta High School. Back then, Barry served as linebackers coach at USC and helped recruit Cravens.
Now that Cravens is back on his unit, Barry says “the sky is the limit,” when asked how many ways he can use the rookie, and how good he can become in the NFL.
But at the same time, Barry must remind himself that no matter how talented, Cravens is indeed both a rookie and just 20 years old. It could take some time for him to develop, Barry cautions, and so patience is key.
“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.
So, right now kind of just as a starting point, he’s playing our weak-side linebacker – which we call ‘Mo’ – in base and then he’s playing our weak-side linebacker in nickel, which we call the dime linebacker. But I think as he learns and he picks up the system and the more comfortable he gets, the sky is the limit with all the different things you can do with him. But we’ve got to remember, he’s a new kid coming in, learning the playbook, learning all new terminology. He’ll be the first one to tell you, the rookie minicamp, it was like we were speaking a different language, which is understandable.”
During position drills, Cravens has received work at both linebacker and safety. However, during team drills, he has stuck to linebacker because of the need for him to fully grasp one position before moving on to others.
Cravens said that with each week, he feels more comfortable on the field, and the evidence showed as he appeared more decisive in coverage and more aggressive pursuing the ball last week than he did the week before. The rookie acknowledges that he still has a long way to go before mastering even the limited role coaches have for him.
Eventually, as Barry indicated, Cravens will find himself used all over the field, and the impact plays will come in a variety of ways.
“He’s a special one in the sense that he’s got 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. So, really, I think down the road moving forward, I think the sky is the limit on what we can do with him.”
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