- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Washington Redskins’ safety Donte Whitner participated in just 49 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snap counts against the Chicago Bears, down from 86 percent of the snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles a week prior. The low level of utilization suggests that there is no sense of comfort at the safety position.

Coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Whitner is dealing with a quadricep strain and he’s currently listed as day-to-day as the Redskins enter the final week of their regular season.

That poses a problem for the Redskins secondary, a unit coming off a five-interception performance against the Bears. Since the beginning of the season, six different players have played at the safety positions — beginning with DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton Jr.

After Hall tore his ACL and Bruton suffered a concussion, the shuffle began. Whitner was brought in as a free agent, Will Blackmon shifted over to safety from corner, and Duke Ihenacho and Deshazor Everett have worked their way into the rotation.

Should Whitner be unavailable, Su’a Cravens, who’s mostly played as a linebacker in the Redskins defense, would likely join the safety corps, according to coach Jay Gruden.

However, Cravens is currently dealing with a brachialis strain, an injury to the deep muscle located between his bicep and elbow that has kept him out of the last two games. Gruden said he’s hoping the 21-year-old rookie, who played safety in college, gets a little bit of practice in this week.

“We have got to get him healthy first — it’s a moot point if he doesn’t get healthy,” Gruden said. “We’ll just take it day-by-day and see how he’s doing and then try to see where he is mentally. We know he can play dime linebacker, which is good, so we have a spot for him there. But we would like to see what he can do at safety — see how much he can learn and see where he is from a mental standpoint.”

The Redskins have already taken advantage of Cravens’ versatility. A hybrid safety/linebacker at USC, Cravens has been used this year as a coverage linebacker who can throw quarterbacks off guard with an occasional blitz.

Cravens was seen last week standing away from his normal linebacking group during practice, watching the Redskins’ secondary taking part in drills. At the time, Gruden said it was because he wants Cravens to accumulate as much information as possible from a multitude of positions, especially if he can only watch practice as he recovers.

“We’re trying to teach him everything and he feels good about his knowledge as far as the dime linebacker is concerned,” Cravens said. “He’s trying to branch out and learn more about the safety position, the nickel position, all that and that’s what he’s got to do. That’s why we drafted him, so he’s a versatile guy that can play safety, can play nickel, can play inside backer, whatever it is. So, yeah, that’s what he is doing.”

The Redskins face a must-win game Sunday at FedEx Field against the New York Giants, but the decision to experiment with Cravens may have as much to do with long-term plans for the second-round draft pick as it does with Eli Manning’s check-downs — especially with reports the Redskins are considering moving Cravens to safety full-time next season.

The rookie joked about that possibility in a Dec. 22 tweet, calling himself the Redskins’ newest 2017 safety.

• Tommy Chalk can be reached at tchalk@washingtontimes.com.

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