BEREA: The Browns found a pass rusher.
I feel like I’ve waited a decade to say that. Actually, it has been longer, since Jamir Miller retired with a ruptured Achilles after the 2001 season.
But they might not have found the pass rusher. And that could sound alarming, considering the Browns’ financial commitment to the star of their 2013 free-agent class, the first signee of the new regime.
The addition of former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger should not eliminate the possibility the Browns will select another outside linebacker who can terrorize quarterbacks with the sixth pick in the draft. In fact, it should mean they should grab Oregon’s Dion Jordan, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones or BYU defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
With a rotation of Kruger, converted defensive end Jabaal Sheard, Quentin Groves (the former Arizona Cardinals linebacker who agreed to terms Wednesday) and Jordan/Jones/Ansah at the two outside linebacker spots, the Browns could put together a front seven opponents would fear.
Kruger and Jordan/Jones/Ansah would both be stars.
Introduced Wednesday after signing a five-year, $40 million contract, Kruger wasn’t the premier sackmaster available in free agency. That distinction belongs to Cliff Avril of the Detroit Lions, who totaled 29 in the past three seasons. Kruger had 14½ in two.
Yet Kruger experienced a breakout year as the Ravens won the 2012 Super Bowl, posting career highs in sacks (9), tackles (42), passes defensed (6) and forced fumbles (1). He was a monster in the playoffs, with 4½ sacks, including two in the Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But according to ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley, in the eight games Kruger played without five-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs, Kruger had four sacks. In the 12 with Suggs (including the postseason), he had 9½.
Coach Rob Chudzinski said the Browns did “a comprehensive study” on Kruger, implying they looked at his four seasons in Baltimore. CEO Joe Banner praised Kruger’s production when he became a full-time player, saying he was involved in 69 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last season.
I’ve longed for the Browns to land Kruger since the 2009 NFL Combine, so I can’t diss him now. I love his leadership ability, his character and his athleticism. Appreciative of his strong support system of family and friends, he was accompanied by his parents at the news conference.
But there is still the perception that Kruger benefited from the attention on Suggs. Kruger must prove he’s an every-down linebacker, and he knows it.
Asked the next step for him, Kruger said, “The biggest thing I want to change is being somebody you can rely on during the whole game. I think I was deemed as a pass rusher only. I think I’ll be able to show people I can be effective on every snap.”
As for what contributed to his personal perfect storm last season, Kruger mentioned the fact that he’d gained experience, was a member of a great team with veteran leaders, concentrated on ways to improve and was “in the right position.”
“Right position” doesn’t apply to the Browns at the moment, with the Browns switching to a multifront 3-4 defense. They have two veteran leaders, inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and left tackle Joe Thomas.
But Banner doesn’t seem to feel pressure with the Browns’ marquee signing. Asked if Kruger had to be a dominant every-down player for it to be their signature first step or if a dominant pass rusher would suffice, Banner went to column C.
“I probably would choose neither of the above,” Banner said. “If Paul is an important part of a successful defense — the responsibilities of that will depend upon how we use him — and plays at the level that he’s been playing and is as productive as he’s been, I think that will help move the ball forward quite a bit.”
Banner is charged with moving the Browns forward. But if the Browns supplant the long-awaited addition of a pass rusher with another in the first round, it could finally be third-and-16.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.