- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2016

ATLANTA — Su’a Cravens shot through the line of scrimmage and dove toward Brandon Wilds. As Wilds tried to hurdle the Washington Redskins‘ rookie linebacker, Cravens lowered his shoulder and sent him spinning through the air for a 2-yard loss.

Cravens got up and emphatically clapped his hands three times, as if to shake out any last jitters he felt after making his first NFL tackle.

“I’ve been practicing against my own teammates for the past couple of months, so I haven’t really gotten to hit anybody,” Cravens said. “The first chance I got, I wanted to make a statement, really take a hit at him and luckily I got him. He tried to jump over me. I didn’t think he’d do that.”

The speed, instincts and ball pursuit skills that Cravens showed on the play are the traits that the Redskins were so excited about when they drafted the former USC standout in the second round. Cravens entered the draft with the identity of a playmaker and he showed a glimpse of it in the Redskins‘ 23-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason opener.

Where Cravens fits into the defense is still a work in progress. At 6 foot 1 and 222 pounds, he has the build to fulfill a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Since he’s joined the Redskins, Cravens has slotted primarily at inside linebacker as he learns Joe Barry’s defensive scheme.

In training camp, Cravens has seemed uncertain of himself but he played with more conviction and energy, perhaps too much at times, Thursday. But coach Jay Gruden was pleased with the way Cravens responded in his first game against an another team.

“Su’a did look like he was all over the place, and I’m sure we’ll look at the film and some of those places he wasn’t supposed to be,” Gruden said. “But we’ll figure it out. Love his energy, though. I wanted to see a lot of these young guys come in, just to see the energy they played with. In practice it’s hard to tell sometimes as they’re feeling their way through, but you can see Su’a was fun to watch.”

Cravens, who is expected to contribute on special teams as well, was on the Redskins‘ return team for the opening kickoff. His second tackle of the game, which came in the third quarter, was another one for a loss when he wrapped up Wilds in the backfield 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Cravens also batted down Falcons quarterback Sean Renfree’s pass intended for Wilds later in the quarter.

Adjusting to the speed of professional football is one of the biggest challenges rookies face when making the transition from college, but Cravens didn’t seem to lag in his debut. The greater challenge for Cravens, who is undersized for an NFL inside linebacker, was overcoming the strength of his opponents and sifting through traffic when he couldn’t get to the ball quick enough.

“Everybody is so big and athletic,” Cravens said. “I had to change my game around and react fast because I’m one of the smaller guys on the inside. After the first few series, it was like, ‘I know what I’m doing.’”

By the time Cravens changed out of his uniform and into his gray suit, the 21 year old was still beaming. He was excited to get on the field in a game for the first time with the Redskins and it showed, even after it was over.

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