- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2017

Hanging in the fan-driven breeze of the souvenir shop in Richmond were the expected Washington Redskins jerseys. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was a choice. So were DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed.

There was another notable jersey at Redskins training camp last summer and the summers before. Sean Taylor’s jersey continues to hang in the store next to current stars, and it continues to adorn the backs of fans at camp and games. Buying Taylor’s jersey is a reminder of his early death off the field. It also marks a pivot point for the organization at safety. Since Taylor, a two-time Pro-Bowler, was killed in 2007, the Redskins have been lost at the position.

Washington is again looking for a safety solution this offseason. There is at least one in-house candidate who thinks he can solve the problem.

“I think I can be a great safety,” rookie Su’a Cravens said. “I proved I can cover tight ends pretty well this year. I think I can play in the box and also cover the deep third. I don’t know why people are confused as to whether I can or can’t. It’s just motivation to show people what I can do.”

If it’s unclear from that statement, Cravens has never met doubt. In his first NFL season out of USC, the confident Cravens talked and played fast. His interception over the middle in Week 3 against the New York Giants clinched the Redskins‘ first win of the season. In 11 games, Cravens moved around in his dime linebacker spot, picking up 34 tackles, a sack and five passes defended.

Craven’s education in his first season was extensive. He realized how long the NFL season truly is for a first-year player who works in the preseason plus the regular season. Twice, he was injured: he suffered a concussion and biceps strain. Cravens also worked at the linebacker spot instead of strong safety, where he had played “all” of his life, from high school at Vista Murrieta (Calif.) to college at USC.

“[The NFL], it’s all about the mental game, and I don’t think I was quite prepared for that, especially with how long the season is,” Cravens said. “So, going into next year, I’ll be more prepared to be ready to last the entire year.”

Cravens has offseason plans to work on the West Coast and in Louisiana. The reason for the bayou trip is Ryan Clark, a former NFL safety turned broadcaster who is also providing football training at Clark’s DB Precision in Baton Rouge. Clark is on the list of safeties to cycle through Washington with little effect in the last nine years. The one-time Pro Bowler spent his final season, 2014, in Washington.

One thing that caught Cravens’ attention on social media, where he spends a significant amount of time, was that Clark trained New York Giants safety Landon Collins. Clark has made an audacious comparison between Collins and Clark’s former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Troy Polamalu, who was an eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro. Collins was named first-team All-Pro this season. Cravens is interested in being around that type of pedigree.

His weight moved between 215 and 230 pounds last season. Cravens did not pick a number he prefers. He instead focused on a spot of comfort. He wants to be swift enough to cover, but also strong enough to move into the box and help on the run. He’s listed as 6 foot 1 and 222 pounds, numbers that are similar to Collins in size.

Cravens’ role will become more clear when the Redskins hire a new defensive coordinator. Washington has already reached out to at least three different coaches for the vacant defensive coordinator position, which opened after the organization fired Joe Barry following the end of the regular season. Among the candidates are former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, former Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine and former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley.

Bradley and Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan have direct links to what has been the league’s best safety duo in recent years, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks. McCloughan was doing front office work for Seattle when Chancellor and Thomas began their Seattle careers. Bradley was the first NFL defensive coordinator that Chancellor and Thomas worked with. Bradley does not yet carry the responsibility of fixing the Redskins‘ 28th-ranked defense. McCloughan does.

If the Redskins move Cravens to strong safety, as they are expected to, they still need a partner for him. Veteran DeAngelo Hall was learning how to play safety last season when his year ended because of a torn ACL. Hall has one season remaining on his contract and is coming off three consecutive seasons with a major injury in each. He is not a long-term solution.

The questions about using a second-year player at strong safety with a patch at free safety again put the Redskins in a familiar negative spot. They are searching for talent at the back-end of their defense, which is all the more crucial in this age of the pass-happy NFL. They haven’t had a safety named to the Pro Bowl in a decade. The last time? It was Taylor in 2007.


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