By Tom Worgo
Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger didn't have many highlights in his first two seasons.
As a second-round pick, the Ravens expected a lot more than he gave them: 13 tackles, one sack and one interception as a part-time player.
Now, things are looking decidedly better for the 25-year-old Kruger, who is finally starting to produce like a high draft pick.
Kruger ranks second on the team with 4.5 sacks behind Terrell Suggs (6). Moreover, Kruger has found a home on the field.
"I am getting more reps at the outside linebacker-rushing defensive end position instead of inside," Kruger said. "So that's been a big help. I am making my mark there. That seems to be the position I will be playing full-time."
The only constant in Kruger's first two seasons was change.
He played outside as a rookie, but last year the coaching staff used him at every position in the front seven. And he ended up a jack of all trades, but master of none. It was a problem new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano identified right away.
Pagano and Kruger had several conversations in the offseason about the best way to use the third-year pro.
They concluded that the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Kruger would only play outside, where he is getting 10 to 15 snaps a game.
"We knew he had the talent to do what he is doing now," Pagano said. "I just think he is getting the opportunity. He is just taking full advantage."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kruger this season: He has recorded at least a sack in five straight games.
Kruger's best performance came in the Ravens' 30-27 victory over Arizona in Week 8, when he sacked Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb twice.
"He is older and more mature," Pagano said of Kruger. "He understands and knows the packages inside and out. And he is working really hard during the week. I think that is just a byproduct of his preparation showing up statistically on Sunday."
Pagano taking over the defense may turn out to be one of the best things to happen to Kruger in his NFL career. Kruger gets enthusiastic when he talks about Pagano.
"He has been a huge influence on me," Kruger said. "It's been so easy to come and work hard every day with him. He cares a lot about every individual. He put his whole heart into it. You want to give the same back."
You can't blame Kruger if he believes he could have been used more effectively last season. He bulked up some 20 pounds as a result of having to play inside and finished with only one sack and one tackle in 11 games. Kruger just didn't have much of an impact.
"Being inside is totally different game," Kruger said. "Your technique has to change. You want to be a lot heavier. You are fighting two guys instead of one. I am much more comfortable outside."
Kruger's delay to make a name for himself in the NFL may be best explained by his college career at the University of Utah. He came to Utah as a quarterback, played that position his redshirt freshman year before moving to defensive end.
Kruger didn't stay long in college and played just two seasons on defense.
"Paul really hasn't played a lot of football because of his background," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He is still learning and his football I.Q has come a long ways the last two years. But he has been a huge benefit to our defense this year. The way he is playing right now is really helping us out."