Cravens ahead of curve at safety

With redshirt junior strong safety Josh Shaw sidelined with an undisclosed injury on Day 11 of fall camp at USC, Su’a Cravens stepped in and took the vast majority of snaps with the first-team defense on Tuesday.

It’s safe to say that the 6-foot-1, 215-pound freshman appeared more than at home, neither looking nor playing like a first-year performer.

That could come as a surprise to some, but not to those within the Trojans’ program. Enrolling at USC this past January after graduating from high school a semester early, the highly touted Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta graduate made a strong initial impression during spring drills with his athleticism and playmaking skills. He’s continued to do so this August with a determined mindset.

“I didn’t come to USC to sit on the bench. I came to compete to get on the field,” Cravens said after the two-hour workout on Dedeaux Field. “I’m just out here to work as hard as I can. And if that means I’m with the ones, then so be it. And if that means I’m with the twos, and I’m still helping the team, then I’ll do it.”

Tuesday’s practice didn’t mark the first time that Cravens – who was out of action for a short time late last week with an undisclosed injury of his own – has lined up as a starter this fall camp. With the strong safety spot currently up for grabs in a battle between himself, Shaw and Gerald Bowman, he’s periodically been thrown in with the first group throughout camp by USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

“With all of the different looks and different schemes that we have on defense, Coach Pendergast likes to mix the different safeties in,” Cravens said. “So, one day I’ll be running with the ones, and the next day I’ll be running with the twos. But today it did feel good to run with the ones and to get used to the speed. I had a lot of fun today.”

And it’s precisely that element of open competition that has helped take Cravens’ game to another level in the last six months.

“We’re all about competition,” Cravens said. “Me and Josh, we’re good friends. We always talk about what we can do better and what I’m doing wrong, and what he’s doing wrong. He’s really been coaching me. It’s all friendly competition, and at the end of the day, the best is going to play.”

And while the veteran Shaw has lined up with the first group at strong safety on the most consistent basis this month, Cravens has certainly established himself. He primarily attributes his strong showing to his early arrival on campus.

“It’s crazy trying to imagine coming into fall camp with no experience at all,” said Cravens, whose spring was cut short midway through after suffering a torn meniscus that required surgery. “I was struggling for the first couple weeks of the spring just getting used to the speed. I’m not even talking about the playbook – just getting used to the speed of the receivers and even our tight ends. Our slowest tight end runs about a 4.5. It’s crazy just being on the field with these guys. I feel bad for the players coming in for the first time in the fall trying to learn the playbook and trying to get used to the speed. I’m glad that I came early, and it really did get me a step ahead.”

Using that experience as a springboard, Cravens is now turning heads on a daily basis, providing plenty of evidence to believe that come the team’s opener at Hawaii on Aug. 29, he’ll be ready to make his presence felt.

“Right now, I’m just really excited,” Cravens said. “I just want to do the best that I can to help the team, whether that’s on special teams or defense. I’m just taking it day-by-day, and I’m excited for the season to start.”