Former Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger will return to Baltimore for the first time Sunday afternoon as a member of the rival Cleveland Browns.
But it’s not a return home, he says. Home is in Cleveland now, and Kruger says he’s happy there.
“I was [in Baltimore] for four years and have so many friends and people over there that I still talk to,” Kruger said. “But I’ve made this place a new home and [I’m] really loving it here. I’m really excited about what we have going on.”
The former 2009 second-round pick had an interesting path in Baltimore.
At first, he struggled to find his place amongst a star-studded defense. Kruger played in just 20 games and logged one sack in his first two seasons. Kruger focused on being a pass-rushing outside linebacker in 2011 and logged 5.5 sacks.
He began last season as a starter, but again moved back into a role of simply terrorizing quarterbacks. Kruger logged nine regular-season sacks and 4.5 more in the playoffs, including a pair in Super Bowl XLVII.
Once free agency started, Kruger said, “it was clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be [in Baltimore].”
Kruger was a hot item on the open market, and the Browns jumped. Just minutes after free agency officially opened, Kruger agreed to a five-year, $41 million deal with $20 million guaranteed.
“It went smooth and I’m real happy with the outcome,” Kruger said. “There’s no looking back.”
Now Kruger is looking to take down his former team.
After the Browns suffered a Week 1 loss in Miami, Kruger is excited for a chance to prove that things have indeed changed in Cleveland by beating his former team and the reigning champs.
For Kruger, that begins with sacking quarterback
“He always had that bright red jersey on, man,” Kruger said with a laugh. “He’s a big guy. I’ve got to hit him hard to take him down.”
Flacco chuckled at that statement when told by reporters.
“I hope he doesn’t get to me,” Flacco said. “And if he does, hopefully I can shake him off and talk a little trash to him afterwards.”
“If anybody comes inside, I want to kill them,” Yanda said with a grin. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business."
From a distance, Kruger had seen the Browns finish in last place in the AFC North every year. But he said he’s ignoring the past. With an all-new coaching staff and many new players, especially on defense, the Browns are in essence starting fresh.
Kruger said he has brought many of his experiences from Baltimore to Cleveland, where he now stands as a leader on their defense. He says he loves new Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton and his scheme, which isn’t much different from Baltimore’s.
In his first game as a Brown last Sunday, Kruger logged four tackles and a sack.
“To me, it was important to be a part of something that I could have an influence on,” Kruger said.
“This is a year where we can come out and re-identify ourselves. I don’t really look at the past. So many people talk about what the Browns have done in the past, but to me it’s irrelevant. The past is the past.”
Kruger is looking at his return as a business trip. The Ravens will be unveiling their Super Bowl XLVII banner Sunday afternoon. While Kruger said it will be cool to see, he’s adamant about not letting it be a distraction.
“That stuff will be maybe cool to see on SportsCenter, but I’m going to be pretty focused on what’s going on,” Kruger said.
“It’s a conference game and we’re playing against a really good team. It’s time for us to go out there and shine. I’m looking forward to it.”