Since arriving at USC from the SEC, USC head coach Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron have owned the state of California on the recruiting trail. As USC’s eighth-ranked class of 2012 prepares for fall practice starting in August, the Trojans are busy acquiring verbal commitments for their 2013 group.
Currently, USC’s 2013 class is ranked second on Rivals.com with 14 commitments, three of those being 5-star recruits.
One of those 5-star commits is Vista Murrieta High (CA) star Su’a Cravens. Another example of Kiffin/Orgeron’s California dominance, Cravens is considered the top safety in his class and chose to stay close to home over heading to Ohio State or Michigan.
One of the coordinators who recruited Cravens was the team’s offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu. However, Cravens reminds scouts more of Polamalu’s nephew—a USC legend now dominating for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The comparisons are legit, so here’s why Cravens lines up to be the next star safety for the Trojans.
This is Cravens’ biggest strength and also the reason why he draws Troy Polamalu comparisons frequently. Polamalu is known for moving across the entire field and often gambles on plays, then uses his size and power to ensure his risks pay off.
Cravens has the size (6’1”, 205 pounds) to move down into the front seven and blitz but also the speed to cover deep. He may not play with Polamalu’s ferocity yet, but is well on his way.
Another big reason Cravens will be so valuable is that he can feasibly play at any spot in the back seven. His aggressiveness will allow him to move down to linebacker, his ability to play across the field projects him as a star at safety, while he has the requisite speed and ball skills to move to cornerback if really needed.
Cravens looks like he will start out his college career at safety, especially considering that USC’s star trio at linebacker will only be juniors. He also played at running back, wide receiver and kick returner in high school to impressive results. If, in the unlikely case, he flames out on the defensive side, he could still emerge as a top receiving threat.
For me, speed is how fast one might clock in the 40-yard dash. Then, there’s quickness, which is how fast a defensive player can chase down a ball-carrier or move at an angle to be in the perfect position to make a play.
Cravens can still beat most 17-year-olds in a sprint, but his quickness is what will allow him to stand out at the college level. He has the instincts to read quarterbacks’ eyes and the lateral burst to jump across a wide receiver to make acrobatic pass break-ups and interceptions.
In addition to the defensive side, his abilities also translate to being a shifty and opportunistic kick returner toward the beginning of his Trojan career.
If the ball is snapped, there’s a good chance Cravens is near it. At safety, he’s like a dog after his bone and will be a tackling machine for the Trojans. He has the speed to slide by blockers but is physical enough to hold his own in run coverage.
A safety in high school, Cravens often lined up before the snap and sprang into the backfield. The Trojans assistant head coach and defensive guru Monte Kiffin coached Eric Berry at Tennessee and let the current Kansas City Chief move to linebacker at times while moving him across the secondary.
Under the elder Kiffin as well as Sammy Knight, a former All-American at safety for the Trojans, Cravens will not only play solid man-to-man, but also make big play after big play.
The Trojans are notorious for having elite recruits riding the bench due to impressive depth, but the impact of USC’s loss in scholarships will be starting to take effect when Cravens arrives in 2013.
Senior starters in 2011 All-American T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling will be gone, which means Demetrius Wright and the winner of a battle between Josh Shaw and Gerald Bowman will take over.
Wright should be entrenched at starter, but Cravens will use his ability to play all across the back seven as a chance to steal a spot from any veteran who struggles. Injuries are a way of life, so Cravens would also be the perfect fill-in if any of USC’s young studs in the linebacking corps fall victim to the injury bug.
The Trojans have five safeties graduating in the next two years. Cravens has a chance to be the new anchor of the secondary and to make Trojan fans forget McDonald quicker than expected.