Rookie Kruger In A Rush To Get Better

July 27, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

Even before the Ravens took the practice field, Paul Kruger had broken a sweat.

During the team's series of offseason camps in May and June, special teams practice began at about 10:15 a.m. But 30 minutes prior, Kruger joined fellow defensive end-outside linebacker hybrid William VanDeSteeg for a private tutoring session with defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

"It's just an opportunity to get better," Kruger said. "If coach is willing to spend more time with us, that's more time for us to use his teaching tools and just get better. Everybody around here wants to get better, and we have a long way to go. You're here all day anyway, so you might as well just be aggressive and work the whole time."

The extra half-hour of practice was part of the organization's plan to help develop Kruger into the imposing pass rusher the Ravens envisioned when they spent the 57th overall pick in the draft in April to select the Utah standout in the second round. And as rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Ravens training camp today, Kruger has already turned some heads on the team.

"He's an aggressive kid who's very athletic and has good strength," Mattison said. "He just needs a lot of reps. I'm impressed with the way he's picked up the defenses, and that's what one of the big things was, to be able to pick up our system and then refine all of his techniques and see what happens when he plays."

Terrell Suggs did not attend the Ravens' offseason camps while he and the organization reached a six-year, $63 million deal to replace the franchise tag the club had attached to him. That left Kruger, 23, who agreed to a four-year contract Saturday that includes a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million in total guaranteed money, as the most immediate beneficiary of Suggs' absence. He split time during the minicamps with outside linebacker Antwan Barnes on the first defensive unit.

It was a surreal experience for Kruger, who will sign his first professional contract today. He could have been spending this summer preparing for his junior year with the Utes.

Instead, he was matching up against massive left tackle Jared Gaither and getting to quarterback Joe Flacco.

"It's a dream come true," Kruger said. "It's been a goal of mine since I can remember. So it's definitely a privilege to be around guys like them. There's top players on every team. I'm fortunate to be on a team where the guys are not only excellent players, but they're also great people. They treat you with respect, and it's a team that I think everyone is proud to be on."

Kruger's potential reminds some Ravens fans of former linebacker Dan Cody, a talented player out of Oklahoma chosen by the organization in the second round of the 2005 draft. But Cody never lived up to his potential because of debilitating injuries and was released before last season.

But Kruger is a little more polished than Cody and has played just two years of college football, which means he doesn't have the wear-and-tear that other players might. Then again, Kruger might not have the experience and savvy that his peers have, but defensive line coach Clarence Brooks does not seem worried.

"There's arguments on both sides," Brooks said. "For someone like him, we're just happy to have him. We're happy he was available where he was. Everybody liked what they saw in the evaluation of him. We're just happy we have him and have an opportunity to mold and turn the guy into a very productive player on this defense."

Much has been made about Kruger being the victim of a stabbing during a fight outside a party after the 2008 season and losing a kidney as a child as a result of a car accident. But Kruger said a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a profound effect on him.

Mowing lawns, participating in fundraisers and sharing the Bible with residents of Independence, Mo., helped Kruger consider what remained outside football.

"I think it's given me a perspective on life," he said. "Some people choose different ways to live their lives, and when you're out there, you see how they live, see what they're all about, see how their experiences shaped them. It's been a huge help, and the spirituality part of it is something that I reflect on all the time. My commitment to God and how that affects me and the decisions I make."

That influence on his character was evident during practice as Kruger did not showboat or get involved in the antics that one might see from a highly drafted rookie. Kruger simply completed his work, and that suited his veteran teammates just fine.

"My impression is that he doesn't say much and that's a good thing," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "Quiet rookies are good. Loudmouth rookies are bad. He just works hard and tries to get better. So I have a good impression of him."

Note: : First-round draft pick Michael Oher remained unsigned and in Memphis, Tenn., on Sunday. Rookies are required to report to Westminster today for Tuesday's first practice at 8:45 a.m.

Paul Kruger

Position: Defensive end-outside linebacker

College: Utah

Drafted: Second round, 57th overall

Height: 6 feet 4 Weight: 265 pounds

Born: Feb. 15, 1986

Hometown: Orem, Utah

Of note: Switched from quarterback to defensive end after two-year church mission. ... At Utah, his younger brother, Dave, joined him on the defensive line. ... Father, Paul, played football at Oregon State, and mother, Jennifer, was a member of the track and field team.

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