Coming down the stretch of his opening round, it looked like Brandt Snedeker’s stay at the Wyndham Championship could be a brief one.
A day after adding a playmaker on offense, the Redskins bolstered the defense, signing USC linebacker-safety Su’a Cravens in the second round.
Cravens, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 226 pounds, recorded 86 tackles, including 15 for loss, to go along with 5.5 sacks last season. He also made two interceptions in 2015, giving him a total of nine in three years with the Trojans.
There was much intrigue surrounding Cravens entering the draft because of his flexibility. The Redskins, however, have told the Los Angeles native that he’ll play dime linebacker in Washington.
“Probably every question at the combine was, ‘What positon do you want to play?’” Cravens said on a conference call with Redskins beat writers. “I’d say half of it was safety, half of it was Will linebacker. Not too many teams spoke to me about the dime linebacker position, so the fact that Washington called me, which I wasn’t expecting, and told me that’s where they wanted me to play …that’s a spot where I can fit right in the defense.”
Cravens added: “[At USC] I played 3-4 Sam ‘backer, so I was out in space a lot, covering the slot and making plays in open space.”
Cravens boasts a number of NFL family ties. His extended family includes Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron, a cousin, Chargers linebacker Manti Te'o, a distant cousin, and former Bengals safety David Fulcher, his mother's second cousin.
Cravens has another key NFL connection: Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry recruited him at USC when Barry was an assistant with the Trojans in 2010.
“Joe, he recruited me when I was in high school,” Cravens said. “He left before I got to SC, but me and him built a relationship before he had left and he knows my family inside and out, so I got a real good feel from him when I met with Washington at the combine.”
Because of his size, Cravens is somewhat of a tweener—too small to play outside linebacker but a bit bigger than a typical strong safety. A recent trend in the pass-happy NFL has seen teams pursue these types of players because they can be deployed in the box and they can be used to cover tight end and running backs, as well. The prototype is Deone Buccanon; Cravens said he patterns his game after the Cardinals’ linebacker.
“I like that you can be a playmaker,” he said. “I like to be in space, I like to rush off the edge or defend the run. I think those are [the] things I do the best, and things that I excel at.”
Former Capitals coach Dale Hunter liked to say that “video don’t lie” and after Game 1 of the second-round playoff series between the Capitals and Penguins, neither, apparently, does the scoresheet.
The Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin (4 shots, 1 assist, plus-3), Nicklas Backstrom (2 shots, plus-2) and T.J. Oshie (3 goals, 5 shots, plus-3) completely dominated the Penguins’ top unit of Conor Sheary (2 shots, minus-3), Sidney Crosby (1 shot, minus-3) and Patric Hornqvist (4 shots, minus-3) in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime victory on Thursday night.
Or did it?
"You don't like being on for goals, definitely not,” Crosby said on Friday after practicing at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I don't think you ever like being on for them. But I've had a lot worse games and didn't end up (minus) three. As a line you have those nights where it just feels like a line dominates and you could easily be dash three. That didn't feel like one of those nights. I thought we had some good chances and ended up getting scored on a few times. We've gotta move on."
All season, Capitals coach Barry Trotz has not shied away from his top line going head-to-head with opponents’ top offensive players and, at least from a statistical viewpoint, it’s hard to argue with the results. Ovechkin (50 goals, plus-21), Backstrom (20 goals, plus-17) and Oshie (26 goals, plus-16) combined for 96 goals and a plus-54 rating during the regular season.
So far in the playoffs, they’ve combined for nine goals in seven games with a plus-12 rating.
“I think it’s a good challenge with a couple of superstars going head-to-head,” Trotz said. “Everybody knows what I think of Nick Backstrom. Crosby’s had a fantastic offensive year, just a complete year. I thought it was a good challenge for them to go head-to-head.
“You try to outplay them every game. That’s the expectation. Sid’s a proud (guy). His line was proud. I know Patric Hornqvist very well. They’ll respond as true pros. That’s the great thing about the matchup is that they’re two good lines that’ll go head-to-head.”
Hornqvist played six seasons under Trotz in Nashville before both left the Music City in the summer of 2014. The 29-year-old Swede didn’tr mince words when asked about the Game 1 matchup.
“They scored three goals, so obviously they won that matchup,” Hornqvist said. “There’s no question about that. But tomorrow’s our turn to change that and obviously we’re ready to do that because we have to have a good game.”
It will be interesting to see if Penguins coach Mike Sullivan will try to get away from the Crosby-Backstrom matchup in Game 2, something Sullivan called a “possibility” on Friday. If so, would the Penguins like to see Crosby against the Caps’ second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson?
Crosby dominated the faceoff circle in Game 1 by winning 19 of 28 draws (68 percent). Backstrom won just seven of his 27 faceoffs (26 percent), while Mike Richards (71 percent) and Jay Beagle (63 percent) were excellent. Richards and Beagle often went up against Crosby on defensive zone draws in Game 1.
"We think Sid can play against anybody,” Sullivan said. “I think he really takes pride in it. We think he's an elite player. He plays at both ends of the rink. He's got a complete game. He's a great faceoff guy. I really think Sid's game for most of the time that I've been here has been a real complete goal line to goal line game. If he does play against another team's top line he has the ability to force them to have to play defense. He has the ability to make plays and put those guys under pressure away from the puck. Sometimes that can be advantageous for our team."
While Trotz seemed comfortable with the Backstrom-Crosby matchup he also alternated between the defense pairings of Brooks Orpik (25:56) and John Carlson (29:49), and Karl Alzner (27:56) and Matt Niskanen (32:13), pretty much splitting their time between the Penguins’ top three lines.
Orpik spent nine seasons as Crosby’s teammate in Pittsburgh and has learned many of his tendencies as a passer and a shooter.
“Henrik Zetterberg always did a really good job against him,” Orpik noted. “I think just being aware of where he is on the ice helps. With that being said, every time people write him off or doubt him, he finds a way to prove people wrong. Just like this year when he had a slower start and then finished second or third in the league in scoring (third with 85 points). It’s one of those guys that you key on, but he always finds ways to make adjustments.”
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OWINGS MILLS - Herre are five things to know about Ravens third-round pick, BYU defensive end – rush linebacker Bronson Kaufusi.
1. Kaufusi had 20 sacks, 11 tackles for losses this year.
2. Kaufusi is already 24 years old. A native of Prova, Utah he went on a two-year church mission to New Zealand.
“I don’t feel like my age is an issue, and it hasn’t seemed to be an issue for the NFL teams I’ve talked to,” Kaufusi told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Whoever can make plays is going to play, and get the job done. To me, it doesn’t matter how old you are. This is serious stuff. The best players are going to play. It is not a big concern for me.”
3. Kaufusi’s father, Steve Kaufusi, played for the Eagles (1988-90).
4. His car is a 1990 Ford Explorer. Might be time to upgrade.
5. Kaufusi led the nation with four blocked kicks. Expect the Ravens to use his 6-foot-6 height on special teams. He played soccer and basketball growing up with helped his footwork.