Redskins expanding role of rookie 'hybrid' Su'a Cravens
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Su'a Cravens figured out a few practices into his NFL career what life in the trenches was like.
''I was about 217 pounds playing (middle) linebacker with no pads on going against guys like (tackles Ty Nsekhe and Trent Williams),'' Cravens recalled, ''and I didn't know Trent was as fast as me so I got thrown out the club about three or four times in the first couple OTA practices before I was like, `OK let me just make a decision and live with it.'''
The second-round pick out of USC who coach Jay Gruden wanted to list as a ''hybrid'' on the roster got his crash course and is now delivering hits. Despite being small for the position at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Cravens is working at linebacker and drawing attention from opponents for his versatility and how his role has rapidly expanded.
''You can just see the way they are using him,'' said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team will face Cravens and the Redskins on Sunday night. ''He's the pressure player in key moments of the game, so I think it tells you what the defensive staff thinks of him and just the confidence they have in him.''
Gruden and defensive coordinator Joe Barry want to keep Cravens on the field as much as possible, and the 21-year-old played a season-high 55 percent of snaps last week against Minnesota. The coaching staff is challenging Cravens more and more, and he oozes the confidence to be able to handle the tasks and assignments thrown at him.
Cravens knew coaches trusted him when they left him in the game to defend a crucial Vikings drive late in the fourth quarter. He wasn't surprised to be out there, though.
''I know what kind of player I am,'' Cravens said. ''I'm all about being humble, but I'm not a slouch. If a team wants to try me or a team wants to attack me in those late moments where the coaches do trust me and put me in the game, then so be it.''
Cravens likely would've been an even bigger part of the Redskins' improving defense had he not missed two games because of a concussion. Barry conceded that stunted the plans for him, but Cravens said the different blitz packages and formations that were being worked on in Weeks 3 and 4 are now being implemented and will be built on.
''Su'a is a playmaker, and I think if we can be creative with putting him in different positions, whether it's standard just linebacker positions or other positions around the formation to be able to make plays,'' Barry said. ''He's getting into a nice flow, a nice rhythm.''
What makes Cravens valuable is his ability to pick up different positions with ease, something Gruden credits to instincts and football IQ. In a roundabout way, it helped having five different coaches in three seasons in college.
''It prepared me to play D-end, rush end, outside linebacker, corner, nickel, whatever - just athlete,'' Cravens said. ''Being versatile isn't a bad thing these days.''
Versatility isn't just about playing multiple positions. Cravens has the speed to play in the secondary, the willingness to engage in physicality to stop the run and go up against offensive linemen and the mindset to rush the passer.
All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is ''super impressed'' with how Cravens has adjusted to doing all that in the NFL.
''He has that instinct in him,'' Norman said. ''You sparkplug that, and you see what you see out there. I enjoy playing with him. He's one of the little dogs we can let off the leash here and there and let him go out there and crash-dummy some people. It's fun to see. It's fun for everybody to see. It gets everybody fired up. It electrifies people.''
Cravens' electrifying personality shows through on the field and even on film. As impressed as McCarthy is in Cravens from video, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also well aware of him.
''He's moving around a lot,'' Rodgers said. ''He's a very good blitzer, he's a good tackler, plays in space well. He's obviously the kind of guy who might not fit into one specific role for a team, but he's just so talented you have to find a way to get him out there.''
NOTES: WR DeSean Jackson (shoulder) was limited in practice Thursday, but Gruden said he did more than Wednesday, including participating in some team reps. Jackson wouldn't comment on his status for Sunday night. ... Long snapper Nick Sundberg tweaked his back in the weight room and sat out practice. OL Vinston Painter missed practice for personal reasons.
AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich contributed
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