Kruger Starts Without Suggs

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Paul Kruger  may be starting now, but he won't be for long.

However, filling the starting spot vacated by Terrell Suggs, who still has not signed his franchise tender, has made Kruger into more than just a wide-eyed rookie.

His tough demeanor showed on Tuesday, when he sparked the offseason's first fight during practice after getting tangled with an offensive lineman.

Those qualities will be a boon to the Ravens' pass rush, which notched only 34 sacks last year – a low number considering the pedigree in Baltimore.

Suggs, outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Trevor Pryce will be the first line of defense when it comes to rushing the quarterback. But Kruger could see regular action on third down, providing a power punch to complement the speedy Antwan Barnes.

Kruger said he is using the extra reps in Suggs' absence to refine other parts of his game, as well.

"It's such a technical game, because everybody is so good," said Kruger. "It's the littlest things you may or may not realize you're doing. Our coaches point that out, whether it's a half-yard difference on an angle, where you're putting your hands or your alignment."

His development has shown from Day 1 to the end of this week's rookie camp.

Lining up opposite massive left tackle Jared Gaither in the first minicamp of the offseason, the talented pass rusher bulled right into Gaither's chest and was immediately swallowed up by the 6-foot-9, 330-pounder.

Still, Kruger closed his offseason with a few solid weeks of practices, showing that he can hold his own at the NFL level by regularly finding himself in the backfield.

"Everybody here was an outstanding player in college, so you realize how fast everyone is going and the tempo of the game," said Kruger. "It's amazing. What you're dealing with is somewhat overwhelming at times, but I'm getting the hang of it."

At this point, there are a few directions Kruger's career could venture.

In college, Kruger converted from quarterback to the defensive line after taking two years off to participate in a Church of Latter-Day Saints mission. He is now trying to add hybrid outside linebacker skills to his repertoire, much like Suggs did after he was drafted in 2003.

Kruger rarely dropped in coverage in college, although there were occasions when he did, such as the time when he intercepted a pass in the flat against BYU and returned it 30 yards.

Known for his tremendous motor, the second-round draft pick racked up 124 tackles, 12 passes defensed and 10.5 sacks in two seasons at Utah as a big part of the Utes' 13-0 squad in 2008.

Head coach John Harbaugh doesn't want Kruger to rest on those laurels quite yet.

"We've seen a good motor, and he goes hard. He's very physical, has good hands. He's a load, but he's got a lot to learn," said Harbaugh. "He doesn't really know the defense yet. Just in terms of being a pro, he's working on that, coming along that way like all the rookies are, and he's doing a good job of it. But he's got a long way to go."

Then again, at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, Kruger could add more weight over the next year and become a slashing interior pass rusher, a la the 290-pound Trevor Pryce.

Kruger simply wants to play.

"Right now, I'm playing outside 'backer, so I'm comfortable with that," he said. "But if I can keep my quickness and do some other things, that will be perfect for me. I want to get on the field, so whatever I have to do, I will. That's why I'm here – to play ball.

"I want to be a player that can come in with high energy and also go against a 6-7, 300-pound guy and do some good things." 

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