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From the ABJ archives: Paul Kruger one tough cat

By Marla Ridenour Published: March 12, 2013

Here's my pre-draft story from April 21, 2009 on new Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger:

It was a joking suggestion, that Paul Kruger might have nine lives. But the Utah defensive end didn't find the comment all that inappropriate.

At age 23, he has already survived a stabbing that nearly cost him his life and a car accident that cost him his spleen and a kidney. His mother has said he's wearing out his guardian angels.

''It's terrible to be in situations like that,'' Kruger said. ''But after you recover, you understand a lot of things about life and are very grateful to be in the situation you're in.''

The Utes' redshirt sophomore, a standout pass rusher who is projected as a second- or third-round pick in this weekend's NFL Draft, nearly died in January 2008 after an encounter with a gang left him with slashes to his ribs and abdomen that required 50 staples and four hours of surgery to close.

Kruger , his brother, David, and Utah teammate Greg Newman were leaving a house in Salt Lake City when a group of men drove by and shouted obscenities. After Newman threw a snowball at their car, the men got out of the vehicle and ignored PaulKruger 's attempt to prevent a fight.

A screwdriver was driven through Newman's back and David Kruger 's nose was broken and his cheekbone was shattered by what police think were brass knuckles. But Paul Kruger was the most badly injured.

Kruger 's then-defensive coordinator, Gary Andersen, believes the efforts of an emergency room nurse who was on the scene might have saved Kruger 's life. The nurse and Kruger 's sister, Jessica, kept pressure on his wounds and the nurse called 911 when Kruger 's blood pressure dropped, asking an ambulance to meet their SUV en route to the hospital.

Andersen, now coach at Utah State, said Jessica Kruger called him at 2 a.m. Andersen was close to the family after playing junior college football with Kruger 's father.

''You don't like to get those calls as a coach,'' Andersen said. ''At that point, football didn't mean much, for about a 24-hour period. It was the perfect case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

The incident had a huge impact on him, Kruger said.

''Being a football player, you kind of think the world revolves around you,'' he said. ''That mindset is definitely cut short once you have something like that.

''I've learned a tremendous amount just being smart, knowing your surroundings and learning how to avoid situations like that. Every day I think I'm lucky to be alive and I don't want to go through something like that again.''

Even before the stabbing, Kruger was playing with a pad wrapped around his abdomen because of the 1999 car accident. He was 13 and with his family on a four-wheeling excursion in the mountains when their Jeep flipped and rolled over onto his stomach.

During his 2008 recovery, Kruger lost at least 10 pounds, another physical setback in a career interrupted by a two-year mission with the Latter Day Saints. Andersen said Kruger had just regained the strength he had lost while serving in 2005 and 2006, mainly in Kansas City, witnessing for his church.

But Kruger described the mission as an awesome experience. According to a Yahoo Sports story, Kruger still keeps in touch with some children he met and a friend he made in a struggling single-parent home in Manhattan, Kan.

''I loved it there,'' he said. ''They were just down-to-earth, humble people.''

Recruited as a quarterback at Utah, Kruger played for two undefeated Utes' teams  during his redshirt year in 2004 and in 2008, when they went 13-0 and won the Sugar Bowl. Kruger finished last year with 161/2 tackles for losses and 71/2 sacks, giving him 101/2 sacks in two seasons. According to Yahoo, Kruger made his mark in practice in 2004 batting down passes from future No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith.

Now 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds, Kruger left school early because of his age. He believes he can play end in a 4-3 defense or linebacker in a 3-4 and Andersen agrees.

''He can be a very gifted and talented pass rusher,'' Andersen said. ''I don't know what it takes to play linebacker in the NFL, I've never coached at that level. But I've coached 15 kids who have played defensive line in the NFL and he can definitely play defensive line. He's very gifted athletically and very smart. I also think he can play outside linebacker.''

Pro Football Weekly's Draft Guide criticized Kruger for his ''limited upside,'' but Andersen strongly disagreed.

''That couldn't be more wrong,'' Andersen said. ''He was a quarterback in high school. From a strength standpoint, a weight standpoint, general knowledge of the position. . . . Even though he's an older kid, he never had a true offseason to train. His upside is off the charts.''


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