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Just two weeks ago, Paul Kruger reported to the first day of the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program with the outlook of a 2012 starter.
But after the Ravens invested their top pick in the second round on Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw this weekend, that avenue is more congested.
Three former second-round picks – Kruger, Upshaw and Sergio Kindle – will all battle for playing time at SAM linebacker.
Kruger’s viewpoint hasn’t changed, however. He was expecting a battle.
“I figured there would be somebody there, somebody to give me a run for my money,” Kruger said Monday.
“There’s always going to be competition until you’re a Terrell Suggs, or a Ray Lewis or a Haloti Ngata. It’s going to be a fight every year – every week even. That doesn’t change my mindset or anything. I’m just excited to get going and develop as a SAM linebacker.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh said at the owners meetings that he thought Kruger would be the SAM linebacker. On Friday night, he was essentially asked whether that changed following the Upshaw selection.
Harbaugh said Kruger is “still the lead dog.”
“He is the veteran guy,” Harbaugh said. “It will give us another pass rusher. Courtney will provide great competition. There will certainly, obviously, be tremendous depth.”
Upshaw and Kruger are physically different, and thus could be used in varied roles. Kruger is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound edge rusher. Upshaw is a stockier 6-foot-2, 272-pound power rusher. Both pride themselves on getting to the quarterback, but both have a college background of setting the edge.
Kruger said he hasn’t really seen much film on Upshaw, but he’s sure he’s a great player and great guy, because “the Ravens only bring those types of players here.”
“But I’m doing everything I can and I think I’m the guy for the position,” he added.
“We’ll see how it plays out. During mini camps and training camp, it doesn’t matter whetheryou’re projected or not. That’s where you’ve got to prove it. If you can get it done, then all is well.”
Kindle will also be impacted by Upshaw’s arrival.
Like in Upshaw’s case, the Ravens traded out of the first round before selecting Kindle in 2009. Upshaw was the 35th-overall pick and Kindle dropped to 43rd.
Kindle is hoping to work into the defensive rotation this year. Last year, he returned from the head injury that robbed him of his rookie season, but saw little playing time.
“Yeah, he plays my position, but I don’t consider that anything to worry about because it’s always good to get new guys,” Kindle said.
Kindle faced Upshaw’s Roll Tide in the 2010 BCS national championship. While he didn’t play against Upshaw, Kindle knew of him.
“He was good then, probably better now,” Kindle said.
“But he’s going to have to come in here and work just like we all are. He’s going to push me harder and I’m going to push him the same way. Regardless, at the end of the day, we’re both going to be better for it.”