Paul Kruger has been clear about what the next step is in his career: He needs to become a three-down player, not just a pass rusher.
With two preseason games as a starter behind him, Kruger looks to be well on his way.
"Things are right on track," Kruger said this week. "I feel like things are going well. I haven't had too many mistakes out on the field, so as far as operation, it's solid."
The Ravens are also looking for Kruger's role to increase in a big way after losing their two starting outside linebackers (Jarret Johnson to free agency, Terrell Suggs to an Achilles injury) from last season. Kruger has worked as the Sam linebacker – a position where Johnson started the last 130 games – throughout the offseason and into training camp.
In two preseason games, Kruger has notched four tackles, nearly had an interception and has made his way into the backfield to disrupt quarterbacks.
"I wish I would have made a couple more plays here and there," Kruger said. "I had a couple opportunities for sacks and I missed that interception last game. I wish I could have capitalized on those things. I'm still working."
A key role of the Sam linebacker spot is to set the edge against the rush and also be able to drop back in coverage in some situations. The criticism of Kruger during his first three years was that he could get after quarterbacks, but struggled in pass coverage and at stopping the run.
With limited opportunities in the preseason, Kruger has shown coaches improvement in those two areas.
"He's coming along really well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He has proven he can handle our pass-drop stuff. He has done a nice job of setting the edge in the run game."
Pass coverage can be a challenge for a linebacker in the NFL today because they often get matched up against bigger, faster tighter ends. Kruger has held his own in pass coverage during the preseason, but pointed that to an area where he could see improvement.
"Pass coverage is going to be a continual evolution because there is so much to learn and there are so many things you can get better at," he said.
As the Ravens head into their third preseason game Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the last one where the starters play meaningful reps before the regular season, Kruger is focused on cleaning up the little mistakes.
"I think there is work to be done," Kruger said. "I have a long progression to go, but I've been working really hard this offseason and now in the preseason to get my game better.
"We have these two preseason games left and I just want to grind through these next few weeks before the season."