A lot of folks in Baltimore were beginning to wonder if Paul Kruger could fill the shoes of the great Jarrett Johnson (who left for free agency in 2012). It's beginning to look like the answer is finally---yes.
Kruger had a great game in the Ravens' 55-20 win over the Raiders with 2 sacks and an INT, and now goes into the upcoming Sunday night match against the Steelers with a lot more confidence and momentum. It doesn't hurt to know that Big Ben is definitely out for the Steelers in this one with a sprained shoulder and cracked rib.
Paul Kruger is in his 4th year with the Ravens, drafted out of Utah in the 2nd round (57th overall) of the 2009 Draft. Now at age 26, 6-4, 270, with above-average speed for a linebacker, Kruger has amassed 25 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 1 INT so far in the 2012 season.
For those who don't know Kruger's back story, it is unique, to say the least.
As a child, he lost a kidney as a result of an automobile accident, but that did not prevent him from pursuing football. He later served on a two-year LDS Church mission after joining the Utah University football team as a quarterback in 2004.
When he returned, he quickly established himself as a standout defensive lineman. After the 2008 season, Kruger was stabbed during a fight outside a party. Kruger survived, but was stabbed twice in the area of his ribs and abdomen and the wound was perilously close to a lung. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's office said deputies were called to the party because of noise and learned of the stabbing after they arrived. The victims had already left the party and investigators are still trying to figure out who had stabbed them.
Held out of 2008 spring drills as he recovered from his injuries, Kruger was back on the field by fall camp, producing a banner season that saw the Utes compile a 13-0 record that included a Sugar Bowl victory over Southeastern Conference powerhouse, Alabama. After two seasons of college football, the right defensive end decided to forgo his eligibility and has primed himself for his next big battle -- playing in the NFL.
The Ravens, who are always looking for hybrid defensive players, fell in love with Kruger’s versatility. Baltimore would use Kruger as a linebacker and defensive end, much in the same way they used JJ and Suggs. Kruger struggled making the transition from college to pro football and wouldn’t see his production increase until 2011. He finished the year with 5.5 sacks in the regular season as well as one in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots.
In his first full season as a starter, Kruger is hoping to take advantage.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Kruger told reporters earlier this year. “I couldn’t ask to be in a better situation.”
When asked about his improving performance, Paul was quick to deflect the attention to the rest of the team.
“I think a lot of guys are really starting to come around, and this defense is starting to gel together,” said Kruger on Sunday. “Things are kind of rolling our way. It’s just a matter of us putting the right things together, and trying to make plays. We did that today. And I think it’s going to keep getting better.”
One thing I noticed in watching Kruger on tape this year is he seems to be anticipating and reading opposing formations better. He's getting into better position to make plays. That goes to the help of his defensive coaching staff as well. It also has a lot to do with Ray Lewis inspiring Kruger to study game film in a more comprehensive way. Lewis may be one of the game's most proficient film students in the league.