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Make Or Break Year For Ravens' Kindle

When the Baltimore Ravens drafted Sergio Kindle number 43 over all in the second round of the 2010 draft I was ecstatic. Kindle was a monster at Texas when he replaced Brian Orakpo the previous season. I could just see him lining up across from Terrell Suggs on third downs and wreaking havoc in the backfield as a rookie.

I could see the Ravens logic in drafting him at the time and figured one day he would be the eventual replacement for Jarret Johnson. As we all know, the Ravens can not keep all of their players every year in the salary cap era. It was only a matter of time before we saw J.J. go the way of Bart Scott, Edgerton Hartwell and most of the other linebackers that have played around Ray Lewis. Sergio Kindle seemed like the perfect pick at the time. The Ravens were able to trade out of the first round, acquire more draft picks and still select a first round talent with the 43rd pick.

Coming out of high school in 2006 he was considered a five-star recruit and was rated the top inside linebacker prospect in the nation. Shortly there after Kindle decided to go to school at Texas and move to a hybrid OLB/DE role, as this would better suit his pass rushing ability and make him a higher rated NFL prospect. After his first season with the Longhorns, in which he played mostly special teams, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated and was suspended for the first three games of the season.

In his junior season, Kindle started 11 of the 13 games he appeared in, playing linebacker, defensive end and on special teams. He posted 53 tackles, 10 sacks, 14 TFL, 15 pressures, two PBU, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. His performances helped the Longhorns defense rank first in the Big 12 and 18th nationally in terms of points per game.

For the 2009 season Kindle was moved to the defensive end position full time, replacing Brian Orakpo .He was named to the watch lists for the Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik award and Hendricks Award. During the regular season, Kindle compiled 47 tackles, 3 sacks, 17 TFLs, and 31 QB hurries.

In the 2010 BCS National Championship Game versus Alabama, Kindle recorded 6 solo tackles and 2.5 sacks. This may have been where Ozzie Newsome really took notice of him as he was dominant against Newsome's former team. Then in 2010, as we all know, Kindle took his talents to Baltimore.

Now here we are two years later and as it turns out the Ravens again had themselves set up nicely to replace a great player with a young talented play-maker. One of the teams biggest attributes has been the ability to plan for these types of departures in advance and draft accordingly. There's only one problem, the Ravens have no idea what to expect from Sergio Kindle this season. If they do, they're not tipping their hand to anyone. Luckily they always have one if not many back up plans.

On July 25, Kindle fell down two flights of stairs at a home in Austin, Texas. He was sent to the hospital in stable condition but was described as suffering head trauma. It was later determined that he fractured his skull in the fall. As a result, Kindle was unable to attend the Ravens' training camp.

On September 23, 2010, Kindle signed a one-year contract for $320,000, the rookie minimum, and was immediately placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list. Because Kindle did not sign until Week 3 of the 2010 season, Kindle received a prorated salary of $282,000. The contract included no signing bonus (by comparison, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, the player drafted just before Kindle, received a signing bonus of $1.76 million).

So the team has done their best to keep the faith in Sergio while not investing too much more time and money in his development. It has been said that, in addition to the major brain damage he suffered in his fall, he has also lost most of the hearing in his left ear and he has been unable to contribute to the team in any way. 18 months after being drafted, Kindle was named active for the first time in his career for the week 4 game against the New York Jets. He was primarily on special teams, but saw some time on defense towards the end of the game. Kindle was again active in week 14 but again played sparingly. After the game head coach John Harbaugh gave some indication that Sergio might be ready to take on more playing time.

"He just has a better understanding now," Harbaugh said of the 2010 second-rounder. "He's made a lot of progress, and we think he's ready to play more and more."

That playing time never materialized and you have to wonder how much of that has to do with his hearing loss over his ability to contribute at an NFL level. There has got to be a reason the team has kept him around even though his injury seems pretty serious.

This season will be make or break for the talented young player. There is an open spot at his position and if he can not take advantage and find ways get on the field I think this will be his last with the Ravens. Kindle is an intimidating athlete and we know the skills are in there some where, it's just a matter of whether or not he can learn to play with one ear and if it is even safe for him to be on the field at all. I have to think the team has some idea of whether or not he is able to play. The fact that they have stuck with him to this point has to say something. If there is one thing Baltimore does not do it's keep players they do not need.

Whatever the Ravens know on the matter they aren't telling us but I think we will get our answers this season. Although there is an open spot at OLB/DE he will have some stiff competition as the Ravens have made plenty of contingency plans since his accident. Kindle will need to fight for a spot but even making the team as a second or third string player would be huge for him and the Ravens. I think if he is able to play he could be a difference maker and once he gets in a game it will be hard to take him out.