Su'a Cravens gets head start on new position for 2017

Su'a Cravens will be getting some work in with the Redskins defensive backs. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins, for a long time, have planned to move Su’a Cravens to safety. It appears to have finally happened.

Cravens was with the defensive backs group during practice Thursday, signaling an expansion of his role. A source had said two weeks ago that this might happen before the end of the season. The Redskins wanted to try Cravens first at linebacker, using him in their nickel/dime packages -- often times in a strong safety role -- before taking this next step.

On Thursday, Cravens watched practice with the defensive backs, as he’s still unable to work because of an elbow injury. If he returns to the field, it’s likely that his role in 2016 wouldn’t change a whole lot; it would be asking quite a bit from a rookie to learn the nuances of a new position in only a few practices.

“We’re trying to teach him everything,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He feels good about his knowledge as far as the dime linebacker is concerned. He’s trying to branch out and learn more about safety.”

But this gives Cravens a chance to get a jump on learning it for 2017. The key will be how he handles having to play deep middle. Even if he’s considered a strong safety, Washington’s scheme calls for both safeties to handle each other’s duties, as responsibilities change based on formation or an offensive player going in motion.

Cravens ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds during his Pro Day last spring, a slower time for someone who would sometimes have to play deep middle. Even the Redskins aren’t sure how he will handle the deep middle. But they want to get him on the field more and staying at linebacker would make that difficult. At 222 pounds, he’s small for a full-time inside linebacker.

But they used him in this position because it was the fastest way to have him contribute. They envisioned him in a dual role when they drafted him in the second round last spring. And they were reluctant to pile on extra responsibilities. However, they still see him in a hybrid role.

“That’s why we drafted him,” Gruden said. “He’s a versatile guy that can play safety, can play nickel, can play inside backer. Whatever it is.”