Su’a Cravens is a dual threat on defense

first_imgAs USC fans, we’ve been lucky enough to watch a Su’a Cravens-type player before. Fifteen years ago, Troy Polamalu did it all for the Trojans, commanding the defense with his uncanny ability of getting into opposing backfields while also being able to drop back into coverage. Amazingly, Su’a Cravens’s monster 2014 season already has many comparing him to the two-time Super Bowl champion and USC legend.While the pairing of quarterback specialist Steve Sarkisian and Heisman candidate Cody Kessler is sure to excite Coliseum crowds this season, the union of Cravens and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be equally vital in keeping the Trojans’ playoff dreams alive.“Love having Su’a on the team. He’s a very talented guy, he’s a big body, he’s a strong kid, he’s a good tackler and he’s still getting better,” Wilcox said. “He’s a very bright guy.”With Cravens’s play at an all-time high in his new position, a combination of outside linebacker, box safety and nickel cornerback described as a “space-backer,” and Wilcox continually looking for more ways to utilize his talents, there’s no limit to what Cravens can achieve in his upcoming junior season.“I can make plays wherever he puts me,” Cravens said at this year’s Pac-12 media day. “Coach Wilcox does a great job of just seeing offensive game plans, and then scheming around that and getting me in a position where I have the opportunity to make a play no matter where I’m at on the field.”Cravens, a 2014 All-Pac-12 first-teamer who is a candidate for the Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi, Lott, Nagurski and Walter Camp awards, is the heart and soul of a defense that lost defensive end Leonard Williams and linebacker Hayes Pullard to the NFL. Coach Sarkisian hopes that Cravens’s intensity and playmaking ability can anchor an immensely talented, but young group that will be joined by rising-star cornerback, Iman Marshall.“If Su’a Cravens isn’t a First Team All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year on defense, I’d be shocked,” Sarkisian said after a practice last summer.Though worlds away from the player he envisioned himself being at USC, Cravens’s game has developed into a remarkably scary weapon for Wilcox’s staff. With his great speed, he is able to cover as well as come downhill and take on running backs.“I came here to play safety, but I’m a linebacker now so it’s LBU, and we got to hold down the defense because if they get past that first level we’re the run stop,” Cravens said.At 6-foot-1, with long limbs, a tapered frame and impressive fluidity, Cravens looked the part of a traditional strong NFL safety coming as a five-star recruit from Vista Murrieta High. Because of his soft hands and athleticism, Cravens played offense, defense and special teams in high school. His exposure to different positions gave Cravens a unique level of adaptability and understanding of the game.“He’s just one of those guys that knows football,” said quarterback Cody Kessler. “He always ends up at the right spot.”Like Polamalu, Cravens possesses that rare combination of athleticism, football IQ and an immense passion for the game. It is their dedication to the nuances, techniques and schemes that put them in the position to do what they do best — make big plays.“Even when I’m not playing football, I’m still playing football in my head,” Cravens said in an interview with the Orange County Register. “When I’m in class, I’ll daydream about plays that I made and plays that I missed. I still think about the interception I dropped against Stanford.”Perhaps the “big plays” that Cravens is seemingly always involved in — the timely interceptions, crushing sacks and electrifying highlights — are what have Trojan fans reminiscing about Polamalu most. Cravens can be a one-man wrecking crew at times, stopping offensive plays before they start.“Su’a is a guy who can create turnovers, he can make tackles in the backfield, he can blitz off the edge, he can cover well. I think he’s at his best when he’s around the ball,” Sarkisian said.In his freshman year as a safety at USC, Cravens recorded 53 tackles, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. But the similarities between Cravens and the         hard-hitting Polumalu became more apparent in his second season when coach Sarkisian and Wilcox moved Cravens to the             “space-backer” position. While Wilcox hoped that the hybrid position could utilize his speed to try and take away the underneath throws that are such a staple of modern offenses, Cravens’s aggressive ability at box safety and nickel cornerback opened up opportunities for blitzes off the edge. Cravens thrived in his new role, accumulating five sacks, 68 tackles and three interceptions.“He was ridiculously productive,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We made the move, and his numbers just started shooting through the roof.”Cravens’s statistics improved dramatically in every major category besides interceptions. He made the 2014 AP All-American third team, along with the 2014 All-Pac-12 first team. He also won USC’s Defensive Perimeter Player of the Year Award.“Being closer to the ball helps to make plays,” Cravens said in an interview with Fox Sports. “It reminds me of when I was at Vista. I got moved from safety at Vista to linebacker and ended up making a whole lot more plays. Just being able to be closer to the ball and diagnose plays faster just helps me [to make plays].”Cravens’s 2014 season proved that there might not be anything he can’t do for the Trojans’ defense this year. He can cover deep. He can cover in the flats. He is a strong tackler and a great pass rusher. Cravens has a nose for the ball and is always around a play, even if he is not the one making it. His 17 tackles for losses were not only the best on the team, but they were also more than any other defensive back in the nation.“I think Su’a Cravens is ready to explode — not a year from now and not at some point in November, but today, right now and with force,” wrote Paul Myerberg, an NFL analyst, in an article for USA Today Sports. “Cravens … seems ready to embrace those expectations, delivering along the back end in the mold of this program’s long line of greats at the position.”Scouts, coaches and GMs alike rave about Cravens’s remarkable versatility, comparing him to Polamalu because there aren’t any other players like them. In a year with such high expectations for the Trojans, look for even more success from the junior. He will be closer to the ball and always in striking distance to make the next big play. Which is great for USC fans, because it might be more than 15 years until we see another player like Su’a Cravens.last_img read more