Tabbed a First-Team All-American candidate following an outstanding freshman campaign, sophomore Su'a Cravens has plans to not only win the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation's best defensive back, but really wants to make an impact all over USC's defense in whatever role the coaching staff has in mind.
"He's a versatile guy, he can play man-to-man on receivers, he can blitz off the edge, he still can stop the run game," head coach Steve Sarkisian said on Saturday. "He is such a versatile guy and has a very high football IQ that he allows us the luxury of moving him around."
That plan blossomed into fruition following the season-ending injury to Jabari Ruffin, the potential starter at outside linebacker. After engaging in some early conversations about switching positions when the coaching staff first arrived, Cravens has now been thrust into his new role at outside linebacker during training camp.
"I've just been in the playbook studying what the SAM needs to do along with the safeties," Su'a Cravens said. "They're going to put me wherever they need me."
Those words vastly counter the prevailing rumors that Cravens was growing tired of talk around position change. While most of that chatter quickly dissipated, mostly because players were merely questioning when the athletic defensive back would return to the mold, Cravens now feels ready to fully compete.
"I'd probably say hybrid," said Cravens, describing his impact on USC's defense. "Just do it how they did it with Shaq Thompson at Washington, but with more safety than linebacker. I'm not going to complain with a coach that feels like I can do better at a different position. They got me at safety and linebacker so let's see what happens."
Last season, Cravens recorded four interceptions and 53 total tackles, building immense promise for his immediate future as a stalwart defensive presence. That transition slowed after dropping to 219 pounds while lagging through strep throat, but that hasn't derailed the coaches high hopes for their versatile defensive prospect.
In terms of where Cravens will be lined up -- on the line of scrimmage at SAM linebacker, roaming the field at safety or meshed more in a nickel role in cover situations -- that largely depends on the offensive philosophy of each regular season opponent, an approach coach Steve Sarkisian has stressed across the board for his roster.
"It varies on who are opponent is going to be," Sarkisian said. "When we're playing four wide teams, the Arizonas, the Arizona States, the Cals of the world and we're going to play in nickel and dime situations."
The coaching staff also recognizes there will be a time and a place for Cravens to make more of an impact back in USC's secondary.
"But when we play the Stanfords and Oregon States of the world, the more traditional teams, I think we're going to see Su'a back playing the traditional safety spot."
Initially embracing the change to outside linebacker, playing closer to the line of scrimmage, Su'a Cravens is looking forward to being back on the field for the next two weeks of training camp as an opportunity to solidify his role in USC's defense.
"Getting back in shape and running to the football. I want to give the team the best effort I can," Cravens said, then optimistically added. "I'm still a safety but when they need me to play linebacker I'll play linebacker. Whatever it takes to win."