- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

ASHBURN — After the Washington Redskins drafted Su’a Cravens in the second round in the NFL draft two weeks ago, general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Jay Gruden gushed about the former USC star’s versatility.

An outside linebacker and safety, Cravens is the latest embodiment of the new hybrid defender that’s becoming more common in today’s game. By his own admission, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Cravens identifies with Arizona Cardinals’ defender Deone Bucannon, who is thriving in a similar role.

“The thing that’s really cool about him is the diversity he brings — safety, linebacker, maybe a nickel linebacker, maybe a nickel corner,” McCloughan said following the draft.

“We’re still figuring that out. We’ve been talking about it. We’re always talking about the first [meeting] room he walks into — is it DB, is it linebacker? But that’s a good problem to have, because again, he’s going to be out here making plays for us. He’s a young guy that’s very energetic, intelligent, and he’s tough. I’m OK with those guys.”

Before the Redskins see that versatility though, Cravens needs to build his foundation within coordinator Joe Barry’s defensive scheme, which is why he was an inside linebacker during rookie camp on Saturday.

In the team’s 3-4 base defense, Cravens got his nose dirty at the line of scrimmage. During one play in a nickel sub-package, Cravens lined up along the edge and rushed the quarterback. Once Cravens, who is listed on the team roster as a safety, begins grasping the system, the Redskins will move him as they see fit.

“Initially, we have to teach him a position, and right now it’s going to be the inside linebacker, and then from there we might branch off where it’s the nickel and it could be safety later on,” Gruden said. “But, initially, give him something to sink his teeth into, learn it and then go on from there and see what he can do.”

As it is for most rookies, absorbing the playbook so quickly isn’t easy. In doing so, Cravens leaned on second-year outside linebacker Preston Smith, who led all rookies last year with eight sacks. Smith played 48.1 percent of the Redskins’ defensive snaps in 2015 and was especially disruptive later in the year.

He had five sacks in the final three regular-season games and it wasn’t until then that he truly felt comfortable with what the Redskins were asking him to do. Smith reminded Cravens of that fact while the rookie crammed his brain last week.

“I’m used to being a perfectionist,” Cravens said. “I’m used to always being first to the ball or getting things fast, and getting an NFL playbook and learning 12 plays in three hours isn’t exactly ideal for me. So, I would talk to [Smith] about that and he calmed me down like, ‘You got it. Just take it play by play.’”

Cravens, born and raised in Los Angeles, has spent time getting acclimated to his new surroundings. He visited the Spy Museum, as well as various neighborhoods in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

“Think it’s harder to catch a cab in D.C. than learn our whole defensive playbook all together,” Cravens quipped. “I was out in the rain on the sidewalk for about an hour calling for a cab. Even the empty ones looked at me and sped off, so I don’t think I’ll try that again.”

Cravens also showed his appreciation for the Redskins’ history when he was asked which number he’d like to wear. Cravens chose No. 36 to honor Sean Taylor, the number the hard-hitting safety wore in his rookie season. Cravens wore No. 21 with the Trojans, which Taylor later donned with Washington.

Asked about why he looked up to Taylor, who was slain in a robbery attempt in 2007, Cravens said, “Just how he carried himself and just how he played on the field like every snap was his last snap.”

“And the things he did, the amazing plays,” he continued. “And, even when he didn’t make the play, you still looked at him like, ‘Wow, I don’t think I could have done that had I tried.’ He stood out and he really changed the culture of football with the way DBs came up and hit. It really made me want to play football even more.”

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