By Samuel Njoku
Name: Paul Kruger, OLB, #99
Weight: 265 lbs.
Hometown: Orem, UT
Experience: 4 years
The NFL can be a cruel place for players aspiring to achieve things many thought to be impossible. But for players like Paul Kruger, the NFL has been anything but unkind. He has yet to reach his prime as a football player, and yet he has experienced the greatest achievement in his profession by winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.
Considered to be one of the better pass rushers in the league, he signed a lucrative $40 million dollar contract after the 2012 season with division rival, the Cleveland Browns. With the kind of talent Kruger possesses, it is interesting to note that he didn’t always picture himself as a linebacker.
Kruger initially played quarterback at Timpanaogos High School in Utah for four years and was an All-Conference quarterback as a senior in high school. As a team captain, Kruger was ranked in the top 30 high school quarterbacks nationally.
When Kruger signed with the University of Utah, it was with the intention of playing quarterback. The young quarterback would sit as a redshirt during his freshman year. The following year, he would leave Utah to embark on a two-year mission with the Church of Latter-day Saints. When he returned, it was with a changed mind and clear intention of starting at defensive end and competing for a National Championship.
The former high school quarterback made the transition to defensive end in stellar fashion. In 2007, he was named second-team Freshman All-American as he registered 63 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. In 2008, it was more of the same for Kruger as he would record seven and a half sacks. Kruger knew that he could take his game to the next level and would forego his senior year to become eligible for the draft.
The Ravens are known to be a defensive team. Kruger fit into that role perfectly and the Ravens selected him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh envisioned the talented football player to rush opposite of linebacker Terrell Suggs. The early portion of Kruger’s career didn’t go as expected. The reason for his sluggish start may be his inability to play defensive end at such a ferocious level. He struggled to get any pressure on the quarterback due to his lack of an acceleration at the point of attack. Many considered him to be a bust at the position until he broke out in 2012.
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees saw the talent that Paul Kruger possessed. It became evident that Kruger struggled in several aspects of the outside linebacker position. Pees decided to simplify the position and cater to his strengths. As a pass rush specialist on third downs, Kruger dominated the line of scrimmage. His play on the field seemingly came out of nowhere and was a huge reason why Baltimore went on to win the Super Bowl.
After accomplishing the feat, Kruger made it clear he wished to stay with the team that drafted him.
“I’d love to stay in Baltimore,” Kruger stated earlier this year. “It’s a great place to play in every aspect. It would be hard to leave, for sure.”
Paul Kruger may not have wanted to leave, but 40 million dollars is a lot of money to pass up. The Ravens were unwilling to pay that much for a player that they didn’t envision being on the field on every down. Now Paul Kruger plays for Cleveland and with that comes the opportunity to play his old team twice a year. Though now rivals, Kruger appreciates what his time on Baltimore meant to him.
“I was able to learn a lot.” he stated upon his signing with Cleveland. “From their work ethic to character; the way they handled themselves in the meeting room and practice. I had a great experience there.”
Football season hasn’t always been kind to the Cleveland Browns. But if the organization is able to turn things around, Paul Kruger will have a lot to do with it.
For more NFL player features, visit 32 Players, 32 Days.
Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.