John Harbaugh: Paul Kruger Ready To Be Every-Down Player

Can the pass-rush specialist become a more complete player to fill Jarret Johnson’s shoes?

Posted by Garrett Downing on Thursday, April 5th, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Categories: 2012 Offseason, Garrett Downing

Paul Kruger has always been known for his motor and ability to get after quarterbacks.

Since joining the Ravens in 2009, the defensive end/linebacker has been used primarily as a situational player to rush the passer, most often taking the field on third-and-long plays.

But now the Ravens will be looking for an every-down contribution from Kruger.

He is the current favorite to start as the team’s SAM linebacker, a position that requires players to set the edge and stuff the run.

The job is much more than harassing quarterbacks, which Kruger has specialized in throughout his NFL career.

So is he ready to step into that role and become an every down player?

“He really is,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.

Harbaugh said the evidence for Kruger’s ability to step up is in the film. The head coach recently watched every single rep Kruger took last year.

Kruger, a former second-round pick, had a breakout 2011 season, notching 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles as the pass-rush specialist behind veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. He was active for every game for the first time in his career and showed signs that he is ready for more playing time.

While he took steps in the right direction, Kruger was still playing behind Johnson, who was a leader of the defense and had started 80 consecutive games for the Ravens. With Johnson in front of him, playing time for Kruger was limited to the pass-rushing role, where he didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to prove he could also be a run stopper.
Johnson has now left in free agency, so the SAM linebacker position is open for the first time since 2007, and Kruger will have to show the coaches in training camp that he has the full skill-set to win the job.

“He’s going to have to compete like everybody else, and someone may get drafted that he’s going to have to do battle against,” Harbaugh said.

Another player currently on the roster who will likely compete with Kruger is third-year linebacker/defensive end Albert McClellan. The Ravens used McClellan as a linebacker and special-teams player last year, and he finished the year with 19 tackles.

Sergio Kindle, who is heading into his third NFL season, is another option.

“He’s going to get every opportunity, and we’re going to coach him like crazy,” Harbaugh said about Kindle. “We’re going to make it our mission to get him on the field and get him playing, because he has talent and he wants to do well.”

Regardless of who is involved in the battle for the starting job, Harbaugh believes that Kruger has a big season in front of him.

“I’d be surprised if he doesn’t rise to the occasion and have a heck of a year,” Harbaugh said.

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