When Su'a Cravens was drafted by the Redskins in the second round of the NFL Draft, the team was faced with an enviable problem: What position should such a versatile player like Cravens learn first?
Cravens played a hybrid of safety and outside linebacker at USC. Coming out of the draft, he was considered a dynamic defender not constrained to his listed position, an increasingly important quality in today's NFL. The Redskins front office and coaching staff decided that Cravens' first step would be starting his career at inside linebacker to give him a holistic view of the Redskins defensive scheme.
"That's what he's learning right now, and then we may branch off later as he gets more experience in the system to be a safety or nickel," Gruden said. "But right now we're focusing on one job and that's linebacker.
"He's learning. He's a work-in-progress like all these young players are, like everybody is, like I am. So we're just going to keep practicing, that's what we're out here for. He's going to have to develop fast because we're going to count on him."
Cravens, who fought through a leg injury that kept him out for a period last week, is still developing physical tools and techniques at his new position. Playing on the inside, he is learning to shed blocks from significantly larger players on the offensive line in the run game. He is confident his physical style of play and playbook knowledge will make up for the size difference.
"I'm a physical player, I played in the box in college a little bit taking on guards and tackles and fullbacks, so it's kind of similar," Cravens said.
The Los Angeles native is still getting a handle on the physicality along the interior, but thus far his instinctual ability to create turnovers has translated to the NFL level, even forcing fumbles against veterans like Vernon Davis.
"(Cravens has) got a great nose for the ball, great knack for the ball," Gruden said. "He forced a fumble, had an interception the other day and that's just the way he is. When the practice is over usually, he'll be responsible for a couple of turnovers, being around the ball, and that's why we got him – because those turnovers are hard to find and he's a turnover machine."
While Cravens' penchant for turnovers has come naturally, his knowledge of the playbook is a complex, dedicated effort to learn the cerebral inside linebacker position. On his first day this offseason, Cravens was given half the playbook and told he had 24 hours to learn it. Mastering NFL playbooks and terminology is difficult enough, but doing so while learning to play a different position is another story. Regardless, Cravens is unfazed by the challenge.
"I've always felt like I was a smart player, so the mental side of the game wasn't really too much of a struggle for me," Cravens said. "I'm trying to learn the playbook as fast as I can and I feel like I'm doing pretty good."
Major Keys from the Rookies
Check out images of safety Su'a Cravens during his first few months with the Washington Redskins.
Who are you listening to right now?**
"Drake. Views was nice, I liked it. I think it was a good album. A lot of people like the mainstream songs, they like mainstream topics but Drake always comes through when he needs to. I don't think it was as good as Take Care, but it's still a legendary album. He's tripping right now though calling out Eminem."
What do you think would happen in a Drake vs. Eminem battle?
"Eminem will rip him. I'm a diehard Drake fan, but ego gets the best of every man and Drake better calm down before Eminem come at him something crazy. "
What show are you watching right now?
"Angie Tribeca. I've been watching it a lot lately."
What was your first purchase after you signed your contract?
"My mom's townhouse!"
How was your transition to the NFL off the field?
"It was easy, just getting everything down, getting out here, I'm a california kid but I came here to do a job, so it was easy."
How did the conversation go when DeAngelo Hall told you to carry his pads?
"Ain't no conversation. I'm a rookie so I gotta carry everybody's pads."