Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger acknowledges that it's been frustrating being a role player in his first three NFL seasons. Now, he's being given a starting job, one that comes with the biggest challenge for any defender in the league.
Kruger is the player who is replacing the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. With Terrell Suggs recovering from surgery on his Achilles tendon, Kruger will take his spot at rush linebacker after making one start since being a second-round pick in 2009.
What stands out is Kruger's approach. He doesn't get overwhelmed by the task ahead because he keeps his role in perspective.
"Terrell Suggs is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and I'm not going to go out there and try to be him," Kruger said. "I'm going to be the best player I can be."
Kruger deserved more playing time by his performance in limited snaps last season. According to Football Outsiders, Kruger recorded 13 impact plays that resulted in either a loss of yardage, a turnover or a stop on third down. That includes 5.5 sacks, two plays where he tackled a receiver a yard short on third down, and a couple tackles that prevented conversions on third-down draws. Kruger also had six quarterback hits and 15.5 hurries.
The challenge for Kruger is to make this type of an impact over an extended period.
Increased playing time means increased responsibility. There will be more on Kruger mentally, because he has to understand the entire game plan, not just the third-down packages. There will also be more on Kruger physically, because he has to hold up against the run.
With Suggs on the field last season, the Ravens allowed an impressive 3.4 yards per rush.
"I don’t think he’ll have a problem with the run," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Kruger. "He’s a very physical guy."
If there wasn't enough pressure on Kruger, he is entering the final year of his rookie deal. This is his last chance to make a strong impression before hitting free agency.
"Obviously, this is a huge year," Kruger said.