Kruger ready to step out of the shadow
BEREA—Who says it’s all about the money?
The Browns officially introduced Paul Kruger to the local media after he signed a five-year contract for a reported $ 40 million.
Kruger said the way the Browns pursued him aggressively was a huge factor in joining his former AFC North foe—besides the obvious $40 million other reasons.
“There were a number of reasons,” Kruger said. “I want to say the biggest was the excitement surrounding the organization and wanted a team that was excited about me.
“I think that was the turning point,” he said. “I felt strongly about being a part of something and making the team better.”
Kruger was asked what he thought were the reasons for his breakout season, including nine sacks in the regular season and 4.5 in the playoffs.
“I think it was a combination of getting experience in the NFL and being on a great team,” he said. “I’ve been finding ways to better my game.”
Kruger feels he will be an every down player for the Browns and he just wants to continue to improve his game.
“Just to be an every down player that is effective and be a strong force on defense,” he said. “I was impressed with the way the Browns D- line played and how aggressive they were.
“I want to be somebody you can rely on the whole game,” he said. “I was deemed as a pass rusher only, but I want to show that I can be an effective the whole game.”
Kruger said he and defensive coordinator haven’t sat down and worked out his role, but thinks he will be used in similar ways as he was in Baltimore.
“That’s something coach and I and Coach Horton will continue talks and figure out,” he said. “From what I understand it will be pretty similar.”
Rob Chudzinski said that he expects Kruger to play against both the run and the pass.
“I do,” Chudzinski said. “Paul had opportunities and we did a comprehensive study on him and we looked at him and were familiar with him. Paul is a physical football player with a high motor and he will out work you. We see his pass rushing and his ability in the run game and we look for him to be a three down player.”
He also likes Kruger’s versatility.
“In the 3-4 defense, he would be one of the outside backers,” he said. “What Paul brings is the versatility and he can move around and play both sides. Paul’s versatility and to be able to play multiple positions, was a major factor (in signing him).”
Kruger has heard the criticism that he excelled because of the other outstanding players the Ravens had on defense.
“I think leaving Baltimore gives you the opportunity to step out of a couple of shadows that I might have been in (Baltimore),” he said. “I definitely think it’s an opportunity for me to do some things on my own.”
Kruger was asked if it was hard to leave a team that had just won the Super Bowl.
“It was,” he said. “The thing that makes it the hardest is leaving those relationships with my teammates and coaches. It was special to be a part of (the Ravens).”
However, Kruger saw the writing on the wall in Baltimore with the Ravens up against the salary cap ceiling after signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a big contract.
“I knew I wouldn’t be around for very long,” he said. “I was pretty aware that I would be somewhere else.”
Kruger is just one of several key Ravens players to be lost through free agency, roster cuts, retirement or trades thus far. Gone so far are Kruger, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Anquan Boldin and Bernie Pollard.
“It’s definitely going to be a different group of guys there,” he said. “There are a lot of key guys on defense to lose. I’m sure there’s a plan in place, but there’s definitely a lot of good players leaving.”
Kruger was asked if he felt players resented the big contract Flacco signed.
“It depends on who you’re talking to,” he said. “Joe’s a class act great player. He earns what he’s making.”
CEO Joe Banner said the signing of Kruger was the first step in re-shaping the Browns roster.
“This is the first chance for us to start making improvements on the team from the end of last year,” he said.
Banner said that Kruger was the type of player the Browns targeted in free agency.
“Paul is the type of player we were looking to bring on at the outset of free agency, and we are thrilled that we were able to sign him,” Banner said. “Not only do we feel strongly about his ability as a football player, but he will add a great deal from a leadership standpoint, as well. He has exhibited marked improvement each year of his career and we believe he can help the Cleveland Browns for many years to come.”
Chudzinski echoed Banner’s sentiment.
“We are very excited about the addition of Paul Kruger to our team,” Chudzinski said. “He is a talented linebacker, who is going to make an immediate impact on our defense. When you put on the film you see physicality, explosive pass rush and a high motor. He has been very productive for the Ravens, and proved it at the highest level last season in the playoffs.”
Kruger expects to be a leader with the Browns, but knows it will take some time.
“I definitely want to be a leader and that comes through time,” he said. “No guy walks in a new locker room and comes right in and immediately becomes the captain. You have to demonstrate that people can trust you and follow you. I’ll definitely be a guy the team can look at and depend on.”
After watching the Browns, Kruger thinks the Browns fortunes can rise quickly.
“Teams rise and fall on a yearly basis,” Kruger said. “I think you can become competitive immediately. It’s just a matter of having the right players in place and having the right mindset. “
“Time will tell,” Kruger said. “I think we’ll have time to figure that out. It’s going to be a reflection of how you prepare. We have an opportunity to do something.”
Kruger was drafted in the second-round (57th overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Ravens. Kruger appeared in 51 games for the Ravens with seven starts. He totaled 70 tackles, including 15.5 sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defensed, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
Kruger is coming off his most productive season by far when he had 42 tackles, nine sacks, six passes broken up and a forced fumble. He had 7.5 sacks during the final eight weeks of the season, which was tied for fifth in the NFL during that period of time.
In the playoffs, Kruger had 4.5 sacks with 14 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in helping the Ravens win Super Bowl ILVII over the 49ers. He had two sacks in the Super Bowl.
Bryant Agrees: The Browns officially announced the signing of DL Desmond Bryant to a five-year contract. He will be introduced Thursday in Berea.
“Desmond is a player who possess very good size and athleticism, attributes which make him very difficult to block,” Chudzinski said. “When you watch him play, he is always around the quarterback, and will provide a boost to our pass rush. He is a solid run defender and can play multiple positions along the line, which will allow him to be a part of both our base and sub-packages.”
“With the additions of Paul and Desmond, we believe that we have significantly improved our defense overall, particularly our front seven,” Banner said. “This was one of our goals entering free agency and we are thrilled we were able to accomplish that. Like Paul, Desmond gives us someone with great size and athleticism for his position, and an ability to rush the passer, the key to any successful defense.”
Banner was asked if the Browns might trade a defensive lineman since the perception is the Browns had too many defensive linemen currently as the team is switching to the 3-4 and the perception.
“There are three interior spots and we have probably six players probably make the team,” he said. “There is no reason to think we have an abundance (there).”
Currently, the Browns have Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Billy Winn under contract besides Bryant.
Chudzinski confirmed that Jabaal Sheard will be played at outside linebacker.
“Jabaal will be outside backer in our base.”
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Raiders in 2009, Bryant has appeared in 63 games with 18 starts, missing just one game in his career. He has 124 career tackles, including 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Groves Official: The Browns also announced their third free agent signing with LB Quentin Groves signed a two-year contract.
“Quentin is a solid player who will be another good addition to our front seven,” Chudzinski said. “He showed pass rush ability last season, working in a 3-4 defense for the first time. Having played for Ray (Horton) last year, he is familiar with our scheme, and that will allow him to make a smooth transition. He also has been a productive special teams player and can help us in that area as well.”
Banner likes Groves’ versatility.
“Quentin gives us another player who will come in and improve our defense,” Banner said. “Not only will he help us on the defensive side of the ball, but he also will be a good addition for our special teams, where he has had success in his career. We are excited about the moves we have been able to make over the last two days and look forward to all three players becoming productive members of the Cleveland Browns.”
Groves had his most productive season last year under Horton with the Cardinals with 45 tackles and four sacks in seven starts. Last season, Groves had seven special teams tackles and a blocked punt.
Browns Sign Tight End: The Browns have added a tight end to their roster with the fourth signing in free agency.
At Kruger’s press conference, Banner confirmed that TE Gary Barnidge had been signed.
Barnidge, (6-5, 250) was with the Panthers for the past five seasons. He was drafted in the fifth-round of the 2008 NFL Draft (141st overall) by the Panthers. In 2012, Barnidge had six receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown. His best season was in 2009 when he had 12 catches for 242 yards.
Barnidge, 27, was with Chudzinski with the Panthers as Chudzinski was the team’s offensive coordinator.
“I’m obviously familiar with Gary,” Chudzinski said. “He’s a younger player who has had some injuries. He’s a versatile guy in the pass game and the run game.”
Banner Mum on Dawson: Banner was asked if the Browns were trying to bring back K Phil Dawson.
“I’m still not going to answer that question,” Banner said.
When pressed why not, Banner replied.
“Once that situation finalizes itself, I think you’ll know why we waited.”
Banner of FA: Banner addressed a couple of questions regarding the Browns first 24 hours of free agency. The team has signed at least four players thus far.
“You go into this competing with 31 teams,” Banner said. “I knew the nature of players we were (going after) and knew we were either going to get them (immediately) or they were going elsewhere.”
Thus far the Browns have not signed any defensive backs and Banner was asked if he anticipated any coming.
“I think we’ll look where we can add quality players as opposed to stop gap measures,” Banner said. “We want players, in terms of building a sustainable, successful team over time.”
Chudzinski feels the Browns are off to a good start.
”Obviously, we’ve added a few guys and have addressed areas that are importance to us,” he said. “In this case, the front seven, if you have the guys up front and getting after the quarterback is a key area.
“We have long ways to go and a lot of things to accomplish but we are happy with Paul and what we’ve accomplished so far.”