Paul Kruger's on-again, off-again flirtation with outside linebacker is back on.
Initially drafted as a linebacker before switching to defensive end last season, Kruger has returned to the position that he said is his personal preference.
"I've been doing 100 percent linebacker stuff up until this point," Kruger said last week. "In the pass rush, I do defensive end, and then in our base packages, I do linebacker. So I'm just kind of back to ground zero, which was where I was in my first year. Just taking it day by day and trying to get better."
"In our base package, he's an outside linebacker, and he's fully capable of doing everything we ask him to do in that package," Pagano said of Kruger. "And when we go to our sub packages in third down and pressure situations where we're trying to get after the passer, you can put him on the edge and do some different things with him. He's a violent pass rusher. He can give you something off the edge."
The confusion over where Kruger belonged on the defense has been rivaled by his frustration over securing quality playing time. A second-round selection in the 2009 NFL draft, Kruger has played in 22 regular-season and playoff contests, but has made just one start.
In June, Kruger told a television station in Utah that he wanted to be a starter and that if he did not start, he wished to play at least 50 percent of the snaps. Two months later, Kruger did not shy away from those comments.
"I don't see why somebody would not feel like that," he said. "For me, I'm not trying to be arrogant or anything, but I want to be on the field for every play, and there's no reason to stop myself. I'm excited to play. I love the game, and anybody who's been to [M&T Bank] Stadium to see the games can see the excitement and how competitive it is. I just love football, and I want to be out there as much as I can."
Kruger has not made the kind of impact the front office and Ravens fans had expected when the organization used the 57th overall pick in 2009 to select him. Kruger had led Utah in sacks with 7½ in 2008, his redshirt sophomore season with the Utes.
In two seasons in the NFL, he has recorded just 13 tackles, one sack and one interception. Some skeptics have begun likening Kruger to Dan Cody and Antwan Barnes, a pair of promising pass rushers who fizzled out with the Ravens.
Those comparisons may be a bit premature. In training camp thus far, Kruger has shown flashes of the speed and power that made him so attractive to the franchise's scouts, and Suggs said he has noticed a difference in his backup.
"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. And I think 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."
Kruger has especially benefited from the presence of outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino. A former defensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona State (when Suggs set the NCAA single-season record for sacks with 24 and tackles for loss with 31½), Monachino has taken Kruger under his wing.
While many players took part in 7-on-7 exercises during practice last Wednesday, Monachino spent that time working with Kruger and rookie Chavis Williams on the other end of the field.
"Anytime I can get extra work, that's a good thing for me," Kruger said. "Of course, it's a little selfish of me to want personal time with Coach, but at the same time, I really appreciate the opportunity because I can ask all the questions I want to ask."
Another question is how much playing time Kruger will assure himself. It's unlikely that he will be able to crack the starting lineup with Suggs and Jarret Johnson manning the outside linebacker spots. But Kruger could spell Suggs or join Suggs on obvious passing downs.
Pagano said he won't put a ceiling on Kruger if he continues to progress on the field and in the classroom.
"His focus is awesome, he's doing great in the classroom, and it's showing up out on the field," Pagano said. "He's getting some quality reps in certain situations. He's been a real pleasant surprise, and if he'll stay with it and keep grinding and stay focused and stay in playbook and come out here and work the details of the game, then I think you're going to see a real different Paul Kruger."