Former second-round pick Kruger impressing teammates with strong camp

Ask Jarret Johnson to name a member of the Ravens' front-seven that he expects to have a breakout season, and the veteran linebacker barely lets you finish putting together the question before delivering his answer.

Paul Kruger.

"Kruger has been killing it," Johnson said of the third-year defensive end/outside linebacker. "Kruger is the guy nobody has been talking about that's been killing people. You can definitely tell he's finding his niche. He's starting to understand the game more. His awareness on things is really good. The sky's the limit for that dude."

Watch half an hour of practice this camp, and you'll see what Johnson's talking about. Kruger, the Ravens' second-round pick in 2009, seems to be more comfortable in his own skin - or pads, I should say - than he has at any point in his first two NFL seasons. He's consistently been causing problems for the Ravens' offensive tackles on the edges, and has had practices where he's recorded two or three sacks in full-team drills.

Johnson isn't the only defensive regular to notice changes in Kruger this camp. Terrell Suggs, who has also watched Kruger up-close and personal over the last two-plus years, has seen a different approach from the Utah product on the practice field and in meetings.

"I think he's taking himself more serious," Suggs said. "I think he wants to be a player now. He definitely wants to add to the defense. I think he knows, definitely, he could make some plays on this defense. He's bought in now. Not to say he didn't before - you'd have to ask him about that - but from what I can tell, he's really in there with the rest of us guys and he really wants to be a part of this team."

Paul_Kruger-sidebar-pass-rush.jpgPart of the reason Kruger might be finding a comfort zone is that he's seemingly settled into a position after bouncing around from one spot to another over his first two seasons in Baltimore. Drafted by the Ravens as an outside linebacker, Kruger spent his rookie season learning that role, only to be moved to defensive end last year.

This camp, Kruger has been playing more of a hybrid position, rotating in with Johnson and Suggs with the first-team defense at outside linebacker, and then shifting back to a defensive end during pass rush situations. It's a mix that's similar to how Suggs has been used over the years, and Kruger says he's enjoying how he's being utilized.

"I've been floating around a bit on the D-line, so now I feel like I have more of a solidified outside spot," Kruger said. "I'm just looking forward to getting going."

In need of a boost to their pass rush after recording a single-season franchise low 27 sacks last season, the Ravens have looked at free agency and possible trades in order to add someone who can compliment Suggs and get after the quarterback.

Having just one NFL sack under his belt in two seasons, Kruger doesn't yet have the resume to claim that he can single-handedly be a difference-maker when it comes to boosting the Ravens' sack total this year, but he feels he's ready to contribute in the pass rush department.

"Absolutely. I want to help the team in any way I can, and that's definitely an area I feel confident," Kruger said. "So, we'll see what happens."

"It's going to be a situation this year where on third down, somebody is going to be coming off the field," Johnson added. "Is it going to be me? I don't know, but that's what we need. We need guys to roll in. Our group is used to playing 100 percent of the snaps. You look around the league and teams don't play 100 percent of the snaps. They rotate. We don't rotate, but with the way guys like Kruger has been playing and we've got Sergio (Kindle) coming on, it's going to be a good situation to roll guys in and out."

After two seasons where Kruger has failed to make much of an impact on the field, some fans and media members have described the 2009 second-round pick as a bust. Eager to erase any such talk, Kruger says he's ready to contribute on gamedays and wants to show he can be a quality player for the Ravens for years to come.

"Why not? I want to do a lot of great things here, and I want to be a good player," he said. "I want to be out there every play and doing my best to help the team. I'm doing what I can to get there."

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