Su’a Cravens is the X-Factor in an improving Redskins defense
By Mike Rowan
Following his move from linebacker, Su’a Cravens, the second year strong safety, is primed for a big role as a defensive back and leader of an improving unit.
The Redskins’ defensive backfield has been a revolving door of mediocrity for years following the death of budding superstar Sean Taylor in 2007. The front office took an approach relying on positional changes and aging veterans, with the occasional poorly coached late-round pick thrown into the secondary as well.
As would be expected, this strategy has failed miserably. Despite his incredible physique (built maybe using steroids), Laron Landry was completely incapable of covering the deep-third of the team’s cover 3-heavy scheme. The same can be said, coverage ability-wise, about Brandon Meriweather, Ryan Clark, Dashon Goldson, DeAngelo Hall, and the many others who have tried and failed to fill Taylor’s void.
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The next candidate to fill the void left by Sean Taylor has idolized the hard hitting legend his entire career. Coming out of college, Su’a Cravens’ role on an NFL team was unclear. He spent time as both a strong safety and a linebacker at USC and he was viewed by many as too slow to play the former and too small to play the latter in the NFL. In particular, Cravens’ 4.69 second 40 yard dash brought about concerns about his ability to make plays on the ball deep down field and recover against faster wide receivers. Cravens compromised in his rookie year, playing as a hybrid linebacker, using his quickness and aggressiveness to make plays against the run, on blitzes, and in shallow zone or press man coverages.
Based on his high energy play, as well as the dearth of talent at the position, Cravens is poised to open the 2017 season as the Redskins’ starting strong safety. Sporting a new number and an additional 15 pounds of muscle, he appears ready for a much larger role. Cravens will likely still spend the majority of his time in the box providing run support, but he will also have to cover the deep middle at times and cover running backs and tight ends in man-to-man defense. A man coverage role close to the line could be best for Cravens, and he should be well prepared by working against Jordan Reed, one of the tight ends, and route runners at any position, in the NFL.
Cravens’ experiences at linebacker also bring a much needed versatility to the defense. In certain passing situations, the team could move Cravens back to an inside linebacker role, which would shift free safety D.J. Swearinger to his more natural strong safety spot. If one of the reserve safeties on the team proves reliable in coverage, this could be ideal move in late game scenarios or on third and long.
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Regardless of where he is lined up, Su’a Cravens is one of the most exciting players on the Redskins’ roster, and this new look defense will go as far as he leads them.