By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: As the Baltimore Ravens honor their Super Bowl championship team from last season by playing a video and unveiling permanent banners before their home opener at M&T Bank Stadium, Paul Kruger will be hit with a wave of memories and emotions.
“It’s going to be pretty wild to know that you were a part of that and to not be standing over there on the sideline with them,” said Kruger, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Browns in March after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Ravens. “It’s going to be different. But I’ve been here for a while now, and I’ve moved on. So now I’m just looking to go get a ‘W’ over there.”
When the Browns (0-1) face the Ravens (0-1) in an AFC showdown at 1 p.m. today, Kruger will reunite with his former team, and he has mixed feelings about it. Although he considers many Ravens players his close friends, he left the organization with a bitter taste in his mouth because of his limited playing time in Super Bowl XLVII.
Kruger, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound starting left outside linebacker for the Browns, believes the Ravens slighted him in February during their 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers. He thinks he played 17 defensive snaps. However, the official statistics show he played 22-of-62 defensive snaps.
Either way, Kruger wanted a more prominent role.
“I do not know if disrespected is the right word,” said Kruger, who had three tackles, including two sacks, in the Super Bowl. “I would say more frustrated, just personally, not having to do with anybody else. I am a competitive guy, and I want to be in there on every play and to have limited reps in the biggest game of your life, it is tough. And I think anyone who did not say that would be lying to you, and I have had to have a chip on my shoulder since I came into the league. I think pretty much everybody does, that is just how football is played. You have to play tough and you got to play angry, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”
When asked if he wants to tear someone’s head off today, Kruger laughed and played along. But he seemed half serious, too.
“Absolutely,” said Kruger, who will serve as a game captain against the Ravens. “Absolutely, that is the goal every week. Yeah, definitely I have thought about it, and as soon as I knew I was coming here, being able to play against those guys, I knew it was going to be intense.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco, the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, hopes to develop a friendly rivalry with Kruger, who the Ravens picked in the second round of the 2009 draft.
“Hopefully, he doesn’t get to me, and if he does, hopefully I can shake him off and talk a little trash to him afterwards,” Flacco said. “But it will be funny lining up against Paul. He’s been here since my second year, so it will be a little interesting lining up against him and seeing what he’s got.”
Kruger’s matchup with Ravens right tackle Michael Oher also will be worth watching.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Kruger said. “We’re actually really good friends, me and Mike. I went against him all the time in practice. We have a good relationship. He’s a guy I consider a really good friend, but I’m definitely looking forward to competing against him.
“He’s athletic. He’s fast. He’s quick. He’s a guy who mixes it up. He doesn’t do the same thing every time. It’s easy to get a good read on a guy when he’s setting the same way over and over. Mike, he’ll hard set you. He’ll deep set you. He’s a nifty player.”
The 6-4, 315-pound Oher also has intimate knowledge of Kruger and his signature pass-rush move known as the “dead leg.”
“Basically, [it’s used for] freezing the offensive line,” Kruger said. “You get them up field, run, lift up, I hesitate in the air, then when I hit the ground, I move in one of two ways. It’s worked well.”
Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas has become familiar with Kruger’s moves over the years, and he’s thrilled to have him as a teammate.
“You could argue he was their best pass rusher in their run to the Super Bowl, and I think he’s even improved on that,” Thomas said. “The guy’s got every pass-rush move in the book. He’s big, fast, strong, powerful, smart. He’s what you want when you’re talking outside linebacker. So he’s going to be a huge impact player for us on defense.
“I think he’s probably one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and I thought that’s what he was last year in Baltimore. He made great strides every year that he was there and obviously last year he capped it off with a fantastic playoffs and a Super Bowl ring.”
Last season, Kruger tallied 56 tackles, including 14 in the playoffs, and 13½ sacks, including 4½ in the playoffs.
But a knock against Kruger was his less-than-stellar run defense, which kept him from being a full-time, every-down player for the Ravens. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, though, doesn’t buy the criticism.
“He’s awesome,” said Schwartz, who faces Kruger every day in practice. “I think you saw it, especially last year in the playoffs. It was always big plays, causing fumbles. You’re going to get a steady pass rusher. I think everyone knows that, but he’s also a pretty strong guy. So in run support, he’s not a guy that is a liability in the run game. He brings it every play. He can play every down. He’s a really good player.”
Kruger had four tackles, including a sack, in the Browns’ season-opening, 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Although the Browns lost, their defensive front seven dominated, compiling four sacks and holding the Dolphins to 20 rushing yards on 23 carries.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Kruger said. “We know who we are and what we can do. I think a lot of teams are familiar with what they have potential to do and who they can be. We were not surprised by any of that. If you were able to be in our meeting rooms, there was more frustration with the plays that we missed or had mistakes on. So we know we can be a dominant defense. We just got to put it together.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is pleased with the early production the Browns have gotten from Kruger.
“I’m sure for him, personally, this is probably a big week going back to his home team,” Horton said. “He’s going to be one of our stalwarts. We need him to play well. He played well last week. He played well on the run. He’s taken on a leadership role now. He’s comfortable being here. He’s one of our important guys. We have to keep him fresh. The thing we have to do now is keep him from hyperventilating going back to Baltimore. He’s definitely expanded his leadership role and we all know he’s a very, very good player.”
What better time for Kruger to reinforce Horton’s praise than today in Baltimore?
“I have a lot of personal relationships with guys on the other side of the field,” Kruger said. “So there is some added incentive.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.