Ravens LB Kruger says he’s no Suggs – but who is?

Paul Kruger made significant strides in his performance last

season, setting career highs with the Baltimore Ravens in games

played, sacks and tackles.

Now it is time for the fourth-year linebacker to take another

huge step, one that should have a significant bearing on whether

the Ravens (No. 5 in the AP Top32) are to reach the postseason for

a fifth straight season.

Kruger is being asked to replace 2011 NFL Defensive Player of

the Year Terrell Suggs, who could miss the entire season with a

torn right Achilles tendon.

As Suggs’ backup last year, Kruger had 5 1/2 sacks, 15 tackles

and played in 16 games for the first time. It was his best showing

since Baltimore selected him out of Utah in the second round of the

2009 draft.

Kruger is a far better player than in his rookie season, and the

6-foot-4, 270-pounder is working hard this summer to become a

three-down linebacker.

But he is quick to point out that he is no Suggs.

”You’re talking about the best defensive player in the

league,” Kruger said Tuesday. ”It’s pretty much impossible to

replace a guy like that. For me, it’s about just me being me and

being the best player I can be and filling that role.”

Perhaps the most important facet about Kruger’s new job is that

he knows precisely what is being asked of him. That wasn’t the case

in the previous three years, when he saw time on special teams and

rarely came off the bench on first downs.

”It’s just been a long road in the sense that I’ve moved to

different positions. My role just wasn’t as clear as every player

wants it to be,” he said. ”The last three years have been just

kind of a grind for me. I’m trying to find different ways to be

effective and be part of the team. Maybe a little bit more of that

happened last year, so this year it just seems a lot more

clear.”

Kruger proved last year he could rush the passer. Now he has to

add run-stopper and pass defender to his repertoire. He might not

be as good as Suggs – not yet, anyway – but that doesn’t mean the

Ravens are asking anything less from the 26-year-old Utah

native.

”The biggest thing with Paul right now is the expectation

that’s placed on him,” linebackers coach Ted Monachino said.

”It’s been an adjustment for him after primarily being Terrell’s

backup. The backup rush linebacker in our system doesn’t get many

reps.”

That’s no longer an issue for Kruger, who has received plenty of

on-field time during the first few training camp practices. There

are plenty of playmakers on the esteemed Ravens defense, and it is

time for Kruger to become one of them.

”It’s really important for this team and for myself,” Kruger

said. ”Everybody’s out here fighting. We want to be a great team

this year, so I’m busting my tail to make plays and be a guy

everybody can rely on.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh is confident Kruger can be that

player.

”We’ll find out. I think he is, but time will tell,” the coach

said. ”Everybody gets their opportunity in life and this is his. I

think he’s going to do well with it.”

Kruger played defensive end at Utah for only two years before

being drafted by the Ravens, so he wasn’t going to step in on this

defense and play immediately. Now, four years later, Kruger appears

ready to impress.

”Paul’s come a long way. He’s a far better player,” Harbaugh

said. ”He had a lot to learn, and he’s learned a lot – just the

pace of play and the work ethic, professionalism as a football

player. Guys have to learn that. He’s done a great job of

that.”

Kruger said, ”In the past, it’s been rough to not be able to

see exactly what you’re working toward, or where you’re going, or

what position you’re going to play. It’s been a long road, but it’s

paid off. I’m still grinding. We’re not there yet.”

In other news, Harbaugh confirmed that tight end Dennis Pitta

has a broken hand and will be out 4-6 weeks. Pitta sustained the

injury during Monday’s practice.

”We’ll be shooting for the first regular-season game. If it’s

sooner than that, that will be a bonus,” Harbaugh said of Pitta,

who had 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns last

year.

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