Su’a Cravens doesn’t beat around the bush when asked about his rookie season at inside linebacker.
“I don’t like playing linebacker,” he says. “I’ll play it if I have to. I don’t think I can play linebacker. But safety is definitely my position.”
Asked about his level of comfort now that he has spent the past four weeks practicing at safety (his college position), Cravens declares, “It was always second nature. I don’t know why I was ever moved to linebacker. Now I’m playing safety, so I’m ready for a big season this year.”
When the Redskins drafted him in the second round out of USC, then-defensive coordinator Joe Barry saw Cravens as a playmaker capable of lining up all over the field. But he started him out at inside linebacker, and kept him there. Barry’s theory was that Cravens needed to learn the defense from the inside out. At inside linebacker, he would be closer to the line of scrimmage, learn all of the run fits and pass coverage assignments, and then have that foundation to build on.
Although he doesn’t look fondly upon his time at inside linebacker — where at 6-foot-1, and generously listed at 222 pounds, he struggled with durability — Cravens does see one benefit.
“It’s definitely easier knowing the route combinations because I played linebacker,” Cravens admitted. “Knowing the run fits because I played linebacker last year, knowing where the D-linemen are going to be. I feel like I’m on the same page with everybody because I had to know what everyone was doing last year.”
With three weeks left in the 2016 season, with Cravens nursing an elbow injury, coaches decided he would play safety in 2017, and they had Cravens start attending defensive backs meetings to get a head start on the following year.
Gone are Barry and Defensive Backs Coach Perry Fewell, replaced by Greg Manusky and Torrian Gray, respectively.
The plan to move Cravens to safety, however, did not change, and he spent the four-week offseason practice window working as the starter at strong safety. Limited to non-contact drills, the Redskins can’t see Cravens’s true potential. But coaches like what they have seen so far in the area of reaction, execution and his mental approach to the game.
“I’m pleasantly surprised with Su’a’s progression,” Gray said. “One thing we didn’t get to see him do [last year] is playing away from the ball; working the deep post, playing the half field. He’s come down and shown he has decent movements in man [coverage]. We know he’s strong to the ball. He can blitz. We expect him to come down and tackle big backs, but the things he’s done away from the ball have been the pleasant surprise.”
Gray and Cravens both said Cravens still has to work on taking better angles to the ball. And Cravens, who often watches practice film at home and critiques himself, said he also needs to do a better job in another area.
“Not getting caught with my eyes in the backfield,” he said. “Just … know the rules and the assignments. Do what you need to do, and not get cocky and try to jump something. Guys like Kirk [Cousins] will make you pay.”
Gray also says Cravens needs to learn how to play with greater discipline.
“He plays with great anticipation and he’s playing with great depth,” Gray said. “If he plays with anticipation, he’s good. But if he gets caught out of position, that’s where we may get in trouble if we’re off a step or two. But when he’s played with great depth, he’s done well and we’re pleased with what he’s done thus far.”