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As Redskins’ Su’a Cravens deals with personal issues, coaches and players are shocked yet supportive

Su’a Cravens
Washington Redskins safety Su’a Cravens walking from the field during the team’s minicamp at the Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. on June 15, 2016.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

What could have been a warm homecoming appearance on the same Coliseum turf he graced as a member of the USC football team has turned into a mystery.

What is going on with Su’a Cravens?

Reports surfaced this month that the former USC linebacker had told Washington Redskins teammates he planned to retire, but management convinced the second-year player not to be so hasty.

The Redskins placed the second-year pro on the exempt/left squad list before the season opener.

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“He’s dealing with personal issues,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week, adding, “We hope he gets well and hope that he figures out what he wants to do in life and we support him either way.”

As Robert Woods, Justin Davis and Nickell Robey-Coleman had cited when they became Rams, most figured Cravens would be looking forward to running through that Coliseum tunnel again when the NFL schedule came out and showed Washington at the Rams in Week 2, but apparently he has more on his mind than football.

Cravens, 22, posted a video to social media a day after he was put on the exempt/left squad list. “I need to follow what makes me happy, get my mental right, my well-being right, my family right,” Cravens said.

Attempts to reach Cravens were unsuccessful.

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The Redskins have through the first four games to decide a more permanent course of action.

The organization can terminate Cravens’ four-year, $4.4-million contract or request waivers, trade him, or activate him to its 53-man roster. The team also could request a roster exemption from the commissioner or put him on the reserve/left squad list, which would rule him out for the season.

In the meantime, Cravens cannot take part in team activities.

The Redskins selected Cravens in the second round of the 2016 draft. He played linebacker, intercepted a pass, recorded a sack, and made 23 tackles in 11 games.

He also suffered several injuries, including a concussion that sidelined him for two games, and a biceps injury that kept him out the last three weeks of the season.

This season, Cravens was projected to play strong safety, but he was sidelined for three weeks when he suffered a knee injury in the first preseason game. He had arthroscopic surgery but was expected to recover in time to play in last week’s opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We drafted him and he had some great moments last year for us as a young player, as a 21-year-old kid,” Gruden said, adding, “We tried to move him to safety this year in the offseason. He was making good progress and then the personal issues hit him.”

Cravens’ situation shocked Rams coach Sean McVay, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator the last three seasons.

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“My interactions with Su’a have always been that this is a guy who always had a good demeanor, he was always happy on the practice field,” McVay said. “I know he had the injury last year that was frustrating for him, but I think in terms of the interaction I had with Su’a, it’s surprising.”

Rams linebackers coach Joe Barry first interacted with Cravens when he coached at USC in 2010. He was among the first coaches to recruit Cravens, a standout at Vista Murrieta High, before Barry left to join the San Diego Chargers staff.

Cravens played three seasons at USC before he declared for the NFL draft.

Cravens and Barry were reunited through the draft process, and the Redskins were “very excited” to select the former Trojans standout, Barry said.

“With his play-making abilities that he showed when he was at USC his whole career … I thought he was going to be a dynamic kid, a dynamic playmaker,” Barry said. “Obviously he had his ups and downs last year as a rookie, as most guys do. I still thought he had a very, very bright future.”

Cravens started at safety his freshman season at USC — and was voted a freshman All-American — before Steve Sarkisian took over as coach and moved Cravens into a hybrid safety/linebacker role, a change Cravens initially resisted.

Cravens packed his dorm room and told teammates that he wanted to quit. Coaches persuaded him to return.

Cravens returned and was named All-Pac-12 the next two seasons.

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Rams rookie running back Justin Davis played at USC with Cravens and said it was “a bummer” the two would not meet Sunday.

“We always talked about playing against each other,” Davis said, adding, “I was definitely looking forward to it, but I know he has some things that he has to deal with right now, but I hope he figures it out.”

lindsey.thiry@latimes.com

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Facebook and Twitter @LindseyThiry


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