Outside linebacker Paul Kruger enjoyed his time celebrating with his former Baltimore Ravens teammates at the Super Bowl ring ceremony two months ago. But Kruger feels more at home in Cleveland, where was the Browns' highest-paid free agent this year.
For Kruger, his comfort level goes beyond his five-year, $40.5 million contract. For the first time in his five-year NFL career, he will be a full-time starter.
"That's what I've been wanting for years now," Kruger said. "I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to be in this situation. A lot of hard work and dedication finally came to fruition."
A second-round pick by the Ravens in 2009, Kruger started a total of seven games in four seasons. He didn't start back-to-back games until December 2012.
Critics say Kruger doesn't hold up well enough against the run to play on early downs. Kruger's strength is in rushing the passer, which contributed to his breakout season. With Terrell Suggs banged up all season, Kruger stepped up as the Ravens' leader in sacks, raising his game during the stretch run and into the playoffs. After Week 9, Kruger recorded 12 sacks in his final 12 games (including playoffs). No one in the NFL had more over that span.
So, why wasn't Kruger able to get more playing time with the Ravens?
"I don't know. I tried to figure it out for a while," Kruger said. "It was just one of those things that you got to trust your abilities when you get the opportunity and make the most of every moment. It could be a number of different reasons why, and honestly it's hard to say. There are some answers that you're never going to get. For me, I felt like I should be on the field a lot more. It is what it is. Now, I'm here in this situation."
Kruger added, "Baltimore was a great experience and an honor to be a part of that team. I had a great relationship with my coaches and all of my teammates. But the playing time was definitely an issue for me. It's in the past and great things happened there."
Kruger will line up at left outside linebacker for the Browns, who are putting an emphasis on getting to the quarterback this season. Cleveland used the No. 6 overall pick on pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo as well.
While the Ravens are in Kruger's past, he is excited about facing them twice a year.
"It's going to be a good matchup," Kruger said. "I've been going against the tackles in Baltimore for four years now. I've been going against those guys more than anybody else. For me, it's a comfortable thing. I'm good friends with Mike Oher, and I'm looking forward to the matchup."