By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff
Revenge or thanks?: Paul Kruger, the Browns’ $40.485 million free agent linebacker, is the only full-time player in their locker room with a Super Bowl ring. That makes him a big fish in a small pond.
He earned that ring last year in Baltimore for the Ravens. On that team, Kruger was a role player among a galaxy of superstar defensive players. That always rankled him.
It is coincidental scheduling, yet deliciously appropriate, that Kruger would be in attendance in Baltimore on Sunday when the Ravens celebrate their Super Bowl 47 triumph before their first home game of the 2013 season. They will show a highlight video and unfurl a championship banner with Kruger watching from the visitors’ sideline wearing a Browns uniform.
“It’s going to be different for sure, but I’ve made this place a new home and am really loving it here,” Kruger said Wednesday on a conference call with Baltimore media. “I’m excited (with) what we’ve got going on, so it’s going to be interesting.”
Hopefully, the Ravens-produced video will show Kruger’s second sack of Colin Kaepernick at the Ravens’ 9-yard line late in the first half. It forced a chip-shot San Francisco field goal that snipped the Ravens’ lead to 21-6 at halftime. Considering that the 49ers outscored the Ravens, 25-13, in the second half, Kruger’s stop of Kaepernick was an important, if forgotten, play.
Do the math. If Kaepernick had evaded Kruger and negotiated the nine yards to the end zone – and everything else had transpired the same – the 49ers would have won, 35-34. As it happened, the Ravens prevailed, 34-31, securing the franchise its second Super Bowl championship since relocating from Cleveland.
As confetti poured from the rafters of the Superdome, Kruger was not as happy as he should have been. He was upset with the way he was used in the game. He played on only 22 of 71 defensive snaps in that game.
In August, Dave Kruger, Paul’s younger brother who was an undrafted free agent in the Browns’ training camp, told Scott Petrak of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, “He had just won the Super Bowl and was, ‘Gosh dammit, I didn’t get enough playing time.’ That’s the mentality Paul has. He’s the biggest competitor I’ve ever seen.”
The Baltimore view: The cold, hard truth is the Ravens didn’t care to bring Kruger back. He knows it, and that harsh reality motivates him every day and will motivate him Sunday against his former teammates.
They’re the ones who felt he was a product of the great players around him. They knew he would command and receive a nice check in the free agent market. They never considered bringing him back.
On Wednesday, I asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh if Kruger expressed frustration with his playing time over the years.
“Paul and I have had many conversations over the last four years along those lines,” Harbaugh said. “I’m really proud of his development as a player and what he’s been able to do and accomplish. In all honesty, I feel we were part of that in helping him to become the player he is now and I’m just happy for him.
“I think every player should be motivated. Any player should want to be on the field as much as possible. Paul had his best year last year but he was always building toward that (contract) year.”
I talked to Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and told him that Kruger appears super-motivated to step out of the long shadows of his former teammates.
“He can say that. (Bleep), he played with two (future) Hall of Famers,” Newsome said. “On a defense like that with Ray (Lewis) and Ed Reed and (Terrell) Suggs and (Haloti) Ngata and all the other people we had, it’s hard to make a name for yourself. He wants to be able establish his territory, establish his thing, and this allows him to do it. It’s hard to do it with all those guys.”
Welcome to Cleveland: In his first game with the Browns, Kruger played 64 defensive snaps – fourth-most on the team to linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (68) and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Chris Owens (67).
Kruger was on the field for 94 percent of the defensive snaps. In Baltimore in 2012, Kruger played 69 percent of the time on defense.
Kruger had four tackles, one sack, and two tackles for losses as the Browns continued their tradition of beginning a season 0-1 with a 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Kruger was on the field as Ryan Tannehill wore down his new teammates in the fourth quarter with an 85-yard touchdown drive. Tannehill is no Joe Flacco.
So Kruger returns to Baltimore intent on haunting the Ravens any way he can. He knows better than anyone in the Browns’ locker room that the Ravens take games against the Browns to heart because division games often decide who advances to the playoffs. Two wins over the Browns are imperative for Baltimore or Cincinnati or Pittsburgh to claim the AFC North.
“My mindset is gonna be really similar to where it is every game – playing as fast and as intense as I can,” Kruger said on the team’s radio network on Wednesday. “But there are gonna be some personal goals and agendas there just because of the history there.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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