Paul Kruger Leading Candidate To Replace Jarret Johnson

John Harbaugh believes Paul Kruger can be a run stuffer after watching last year’s tape.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink

When the Ravens lost outside linebacker Jarret Johnson to San Diego in free agency, the immediate question was whether Paul Kruger could step in to replace him.

Kruger broke out last year as a pass rusher, notching 5.5 sacks. But could he set the edge and stuff the run like Johnson?

Head Coach John Harbaugh went to the tape to find out for himself.

He watched every single one of Kruger’s plays from last year to get a feel for whether he would be comfortable with Kruger stepping into Johnson’s spot.

“He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well,” Harbaugh said Tuesday at the owners meetings. “Obviously, he’s a very good pass rusher. I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it.”

Harbaugh said Kruger’s the leading candidate for the SAM linebacker job opposite Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. Harbaugh called Kruger after Johnson’s departure to talk about his opportunity.

“He’s committed to doing it,” Harbaugh said. “It means everything to him. He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it’s been done for the Ravens. That’s what you want out of one of your players.”

Kruger will have big shoes to fill.

Johnson logged at least 50 tackles for the past five years and was one of the most underrated, gritty players in the NFL. He did the dirty work.

Kruger, a former second-round pick from 2009, took some time to show his potential. First he was behind Suggs, then he was moved to defensive end and put on weight in his second season. He played in 20 games and logged just five tackles in his first two years.

Kruger found a home in his third season working as a pass rusher behind Johnson. He still logged just 12 total tackles, but his 5.5 regular-season sacks and one in the AFC championship showed he had arrived.

“What he told me was, he just kind of decided that it was time to become a player,” Harbaugh said.

“He figured out what it meant to be a pro, how hard he had to study, how hard he had to work. It’s a process for guys and maybe he took a couple of steps in the maturity process and just got better as a player.”

Third-year outside linebacker Sergio Kindle is the other candidate to step in for Johnson.

But he is still in the process of fighting to be a regular player in the NFL after suffering a fractured skull before the 2010 season. Kindle was active for just two games last year but did not record a tackle.

“We’re looking for big improvement,” Harbaugh said. “He’s coming from a major injury where he had severe nerve damage to being a productive player in the NFL. … So if he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it’s going to be an unparalleled accomplishment.”

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