Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry recently spoke about some key components of his defense for the 2016 season. Among his topics was rookie Su'a Cravens, and how he will be used this fall.
I know this is a hot talking point for Redskins fans these days. Hopefully Barry's comments will shed some light on what we can expect to see now, and moving forward.
Joe Barry On how S Su'a Cravens will be used:
"The thing that I have to be careful with that I have to remember is that he is a 20-year-old rookie. He's a kid that really should be going into his fourth year of college and getting ready for two-a-days back in L.A. So, I have to be careful with that because a guy like that you can do so many things with. You can play him at inside backer, you can play him at outside backer and rush him off the edge or drop him into coverage. You can play him in the slot in a nickel position and do a bunch of things with him.
So, right now kind of just as a starting point, he's playing our weakside linebacker - which we call ‘Mo' - in base and then he's playing our weakside linebacker in nickel, which we call the dime linebacker. But I think as he learns and he picks up the system and the more comfortable he gets, the sky is the limit with all the different things you can do with him. But we've got to remember, he's a new kid coming in, learning the playbook, learning all new terminology. He'll be the first one to tell you, the rookie minicamp, it was like we were speaking a different language, which is understandable. It's hard for young guys at any position to come in and learn the terminology of a new playbook. I don't care if you're on offense or defense.
But, he's a special one in the sense that he's got God-given football awareness and instincts. He's got natural stuff. Plus, he's a great athlete, he's tough, he can run, he can tackle, he can hit, he can blitz, he can play coverage. So, really, I think down the road moving forward, I think the sky is the limit on what we can do with him."
So, as you can see, the Redskins really value Cravens' versatility and football intelligence. These attributes are what will help him see plenty of playing time this fall for our defense. But where will his future be?
First of all, let me start by saying I was not incredibly high on Cravens entering the draft. It had nothing to do with him as a college player, because I thought he had excellent tape. It was more a concern about where he would fit into an NFL defense.
I saw a player who was a bit too stiff to be what I viewed as a full-time safety, and someone who was a bit undersized to play inside linebacker in the NFL. I thought he would fit best as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 base defense, and didn't think he'd be someone who the Redskins were high on.
I guess I was wrong!
After he was selected, I watched even more tape to see how we could best utilize a player with his unique skill set. I thought, and still do, that Cravens will become a full-time linebacker in the future.The idea that Barry is having him start his career as our "Mo" linebacker does nothing to change my mind. If he can successfully show coaches he has the ability to "muck it up"inside, and be versatile enough to drop into coverage on passing down,
I see no reason he won't remain there. Cravens is hovering around 222-225 right now, but there is no reason to think he can't come into camp close to 230. Even if he enters the season at 225, he wouldn't be the smallest inside linebacker in the NFL in a 3-4 defense, as Arizona's Deone Buchannon plays the exact same role with the Cardinals, and he is 6'1" 211-215. I think the staff sees what Arizona has done with Buchannon, and envisions the same with Cravens.
For me, it's linebacker all the way, and here is why. For what seems like an eternity, the Redskins have lacked a complete linebacker in their 3-4 defense. Only having two inside linebackers on the field makes it that much more important that both of these athletes can both tackle and play the run, and also drop into coverage and defend the pass. The game has changed so much over even the last 10 years. Team's pass more than ever, and linebackers who have trouble in coverage will be picked upon by intelligent offensive coordinators.
Just like Nose Tackles and Fullbacks, the true downhill inside linebackers are becoming extinct. Look no further than the 2016 draft when Alabama star linebacker Reggie Ragland fell into the second round. Many of the draft guru's had Ragland as a sure-fire top 15 pick, but teams were scared off by his lack of coverage skills and overall versatility,... and he tumbled.
With Cravens, teams have a versatile linebacker with great instincts and tackling skills in the run game, and someone who will not be a liability on obvious passing downs. It would almost be an injustice to play him at safety, as his run instincts far outweigh his ability to play in zone or true man coverage back deep. He is best utilized inside the box, where he can match up against tight ends, and cover running backs out of the backfield. This is exactly what he will do as a dime linebacker.
I like the move by Barry and company starting him out as a linebacker, and hope it ends up being his permanent position on defense.