For four years, Paul Kruger chased after quarterback Joe Flacco in practice, but Flacco’s bright red non-contact jersey was a reminder to hit the brakes if he shook free of an offensive tackle and got a lane to the quarterback.
He has always wondered what it would be like to hit Flacco. He’ll get a chance to find out Sunday afternoon.
“He’s a big guy. I’ve got to hit him hard to take him down,” Kruger said on a conference call Wednesday. “He’s a big target. He’s got speed that people don’t see very often. It’s one of those things, he’s so tall and rangy. I would compare him a little bit to Andrew Luck. Both are really fast guys. … You’ve got to be careful for that.”
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It will be up to the Ravens offensive line to make sure Kruger doesn’t get a chance to find out exactly how hard he must hit Flacco to take him down. Offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher used to go up against him in practice, as did Kelechi Osemele, who played right tackle last season before being moved to left guard before the start of the playoffs.
“We had a few [good battles] the past two years,” McKinnie said. “We’re about to have another one this weekend.”
Added Oher: “We came in together [in 2009]. I practiced against him for four years. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun.”
After being asked by the Ravens to change his position at least three times, Kruger settled in at rush linebacker in the second half of the 2012 season. He recorded 7.5 sacks in the team’s final eight regular season games and had a stretch of five straight games with at least one sack. Kruger added 4.5 more sacks in the playoffs, including taking down San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice in the Super Bowl.
Kruger attacked quarterbacks from both the left and the right sides of the formation, though he was more often on the left side, lined up across from the opponent’s right tackle.
That’s how the Cleveland Browns, his new team, used him against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. He mostly played on the left and pushed Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo back in the pocket on one play to sack quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Oher left the loss to the Denver Broncos with a sprained ankle and was replaced at right tackle by rookie Rick Wagner. Wagner struggled Thursday, getting beat for three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. But Oher practiced Wednesday and appears to on track to block his former teammate.
Oher and his teammates are familiar with Kruger’s moves.
“He has this little stutter move that he does,” said McKinnie, the starting left tackle. “He swats people’s hands, kind of. He’s winning a lot on that move. It helps him out a lot.”
Added Osemele, who often lined up against Kruger in practice last season: “He just has a really great burst off the ball. He’s a versatile player. He can play both the run and pass. I feel like the threat of both is what made him a good overall player.”
The Browns have a few players the Ravens will have to keep an eye on. Jabaal Sheard will likely start at right outside linebacker opposite Kruger and Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said that first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo will make his NFL debut and play in their sub package. The Browns also have interior pass-rushing threats in Desmond Bryant and Phil Taylor.
But make no mistake, Kruger will be in the team’s crosshairs.
“Hopefully, he doesn’t get to me, and if he does, hopefully I can shake him off and talk a little trash to him afterwards,” Flacco said. “But it will be funny lining up against Paul. He’s been here since my second year, so it will be a little interesting lining up against him and seeing what he’s got.”