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With Su'a Cravens out, Montae Nicholson could be Redskins' answer at safety

Fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson started in the Redskins' nickel package Sunday but could see more time in base looks with Su'a Cravens out. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The future at safety for the Washington Redskins could already be on the roster. That’s what the Redskins hope, and what they’ll find out over the next few months.

Perhaps Su'a Cravens would have been the best option. We really don’t -- and might never -- know. But with Cravens now on the reserve/exempt list, he’s done for the year and, perhaps, for his career, as he continues to mull retirement.

Based on multiple conversations, the Redskins want to make sure that if Cravens returns, he’s 100 percent invested. The last thing they need is for him to return, then in November or December go through another round of wondering whether he should keep playing. That wouldn’t sit well in the locker room or with the coaches. Why risk that during the season? He’s dealing with personal issues; unless those are resolved for good -- and he’s comfortable with the situation -- they could flare up again at any time.

The Redskins control Cravens' rights if he decides to return, so if he wants to play again, the smartest course of action is to ease him into things in the offseason, have him prove himself to coaches and teammates and proceed from there.

But for now the Redskins can move forward. There won’t be any distractions involving Cravens, and he’s free to work on the personal issues. The Redskins view them as serious enough that giving him only a month to sort them out wouldn’t have been enough.

That brings us to Montae Nicholson. The rookie fourth-round pick should now be viewed as the future, alongside D.J. Swearinger. If both players pan out, the Redskins could have their safety tandem locked down for a few years. It’s way too early to know whether Nicholson can be that guy. He started in the Redskins’ nickel package Sunday, with Deshazor Everett playing in base looks. Swearinger does appear to be a good solution, providing leadership and typically sound tackling.

Nicholson is 6-foot-2, 216 pounds and can run. He’s also smart, having majored in engineering at Michigan State. Had he not missed most of training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, he might be the full-time starter at safety. He did get hurt Sunday and is day-to-day with an AC joint sprain, but long term, Nicholson could fill a void.

It's not as if he was perfect in Sunday's win over the Rams. He'll also have to show he can cover one-on-one against tight ends. On Sunday, he allowed the tight end to beat him to the outside, taking him away from any safety help. Nicholson had tried to keep him inside. He recovered to be close, but if the ball is thrown well it's a long completion. That's an easily correctable technique issue.

“He is a big, physical guy that can run, and we are excited about his prospects,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Monday. “Nothing against Everett; we are just trying to get him out there and get him some reps. We know how important that position is. The last couple years we have had a lot of injuries, so we are trying to get all our guys ready to play.

"Montae has all the traits to be a great safety. We just have got to get him in there and get him some experience, and the more experience he gets, the better he will get.”