Cravens slots in at linebacker for now

Su'a Cravens is listed as a safety on the Washington Redskins' roster, but that is misleading. The Redskins have to assign their second-round pick a position even though they are still figuring out how to use such a versatile athlete.

He wasn't a safety Saturday during the second day of rookie minicamp. Instead, he was an inside linebacker during individual drills and one-on-one and 11-on-11 periods throughout practice as the coaching staff attempts to figure out where to use him.

"That's what our job is, to try and get him in the best situation possible where he's most comfortable," Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. "Initially, we have to teach him a position. Right now, it's going to be the inside linebacker."

Gruden hinted that Cravens, listed at 6 feet 1, 226 pounds, could branch out into nickel packages and possibly safety down the road. The 20-year-old said the Redskins want him to learn the defense from the inside out, but he's going to remain at inside linebacker for now. He carries a unique ability as a "moneybacker," a relatively new designation in the NFL. It started in 2014 with Arizona's versatile and athletic Deone Bucannon, whose game Cravens said he emulates.

"It's a challenge, but I'm up for it," Cravens said. "I did it in college. I think with the coaching and all the tools that they give me, I'll be able to get it. I just need time. I'm just trying to learn as fast as I can and be an impact somewhere on the defense."

The instincts and effort were there as he played inside the box during team periods, and he's certainly capable of covering running backs and tight ends, but Cravens said he's not reacting as quickly as he wants during his first four days with the team. Although he has been frustrated with the growing pains, Cravens said he has leaned on linebacker Preston Smith's advice to keep him calm and confident through some of the mistakes.

Cravens played so fast while at Southern Cal, where he had 86 total tackles (15 for loss), 5 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, six passes defended and two forced fumbles as a junior. He had a "brain fart" on a play Friday in which he knew the call but didn't execute it. He shared that experience with Smith, who started off slowly during his rookie season last year before things began to click in the final four games.

"I'm used to being a perfectionist," Cravens said. "I'm used to always being first to the ball, getting things fast. Getting an NFL playbook and learning 12 plays in three hours isn't exactly ideal for me. I'd talk to [Smith] about that, and he'd calm me down like, 'You got it. Just take it play by play.' "

Cravens dealt with the same problem as a freshman at USC, but he said it took him about two months before he felt comfortable. Cravens finished with 53 tackles (2 1/2 for loss), four interceptions and two forced fumbles that year in 13 games.

"I've never played in the NFL, so trying to play with that confidence and trying to play like I'm that guy on the field, it's different," Cravens said. "These guys know what they're doing. They've been here, done that. They know who are the people that last in the league and who are the people that are gone, and I'm trying to be one of those people that last in the league."

The Redskins carry that same optimistic view of Cravens's upside while they tinker with his skill set in their scheme. It's clear that Washington will find a role for Cravens as a rookie regardless of his position. It's not going to click immediately, but Cravens and Gruden hope that the learning experience will benefit him later this year.

"It's a teaching experience, learning experience for them," Gruden said. "Just the tempo, the plays, the terminology - all that is new to them. But to get them out there with the helmets on and see them run around was exciting. Obviously we have high hopes for them, and they showed a lot of good things and things we can correct and that's going to be the process from now until training camp until our first regular season game."