Not long after one of his starting outside linebackers signed with the San Diego Chargers during the first week of free agency, Ravens coach John Harbaugh popped in film of one of Jarret Johnson's potential replacements. And after watching every play that Paul Kruger participated in during his third NFL season, Harbaugh was even more convinced.
"I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the [strong-side] linebacker job," Harbaugh said. "I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost Jarret, I went back and watched all of Paul's tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year, just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we'd be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well. Obviously, he's a very good pass rusher. I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it."
Kruger, a second-round pick out of Utah in 2009 who played sparingly during his first two seasons, was used in passing situations this past year, and responded with 5 1/2 sacks after totaling only one in his first two seasons.
"What he told me was, he just kind of decided that it was time to become a player. He figured out what it meant to be a pro, how hard he had to study, how hard he had to work. It's a process for guys and maybe he took a couple of steps in the maturity process and just got better as a player," said Harbaugh who spoke to Kruger on the phone after Johnson's departure. "He's committed to doing it. It means everything to him. He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it's been done for the Ravens. That's what you want out of one of your players."
Outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, a second-round pick in 2010, could also get more of an opportunity with Johnson gone.
"It's Sergio's first offseason, so it's going to be very valuable for him," Harbaugh said. "We're looking for big improvement. He's coming from a major injury where he had severe nerve damage to being a productive player in the NFL. I think what the Ravens did to facilitate that is unparalleled in the NFL. I don't know anybody that has stuck with a guy through this kind of off-field injury in the history of the NFL.
"So if he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it's going to be an unparalleled accomplishment. But you know what? We think it can happen and we're going to know by the end of training camp. I'm really hopeful that he can get it done and I'm excited if he can because he's really a talented guy and he's a good guy."