BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Paul Kruger #99 of the Baltimore Ravens rouses the crowd during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 35-7. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Ever since the Ravens drafted Paul Kruger in the second round, 57th over all, in the 2009 draft he has been expected to9 be an integral part of their defense. Now, in 2012 Kruger will finally get his chance to crack the starting line up.
Kruger was expected to start even before the injury to all pro linebacker Terrell Suggs. He was slated as the in house replacement for Jarret Johnson who left for San Diego in the off season. Then the Ravens drafted OLB Courtney Upshaw with their first pick in the 2012 draft. For Kruger this meant one thing, competition. The open outside linebacker position that was once his for the taking will now be a hard fought battle in training camp between two second round picks.
Shortly there after the Ravens other starting outside linebacker tore his Achilles tendon and will miss at least half of the 2012 season, if not the whole thing. Now, Kruger is back on top of the depth chart and the position is his to lose.
Many fans were ready to label Paul Kruger a bust after his first few seasons. One of the big problems was that he did not really play special teams, Special teams is the fastest way for young players to get involved with a new team and with the log jam of talent at the linebacker position it was hard for Kruger to get noticed without finding ways to get on the field.
After his rookie season the Ravens entertained the idea of having him put on some weight and move to defensive end to try and get him on the field. That experiment didn't work very well as he was slower in his pass rushing with the extra weight and lacked that quick first step burst that made him one of the most sought after pass rushers in the 2009 draft.
Last season Kruger was moved back to his natural position of OLB and excelled as the teams second best pass rusher to Suggs. He finished the season with 6.5 sacks in very limited time. Kruger only played about 30% of the Ravens defensive snaps, mostly coming in on third downs as a situational pass rusher. It is yet to be seen if Kruger can handle playing full time. He has mostly been used as a pass rusher but with the loss of both outside linebackers the Ravens will need him to do a lot more this season. He will need to work in pass coverage and be stout against the run if he wants to stay the starter.
One thing is for certain though, when he is on the field, he finds ways to make plays. He is one of those guys who is always around the ball and you end up hearing the announcers calling his name a lot. Ever since he has been here Paul Kruger has wanted more playing time but there has always been some serious talent in his way. Now it is his turn and the pressure to succeed is on. The Ravens need him to have a breakout year just as much as he needs to have one himself.