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Kruger in line for a breakout season

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(Credits: DAVE MUNCH/ The Carroll County Times)

Prior to Terrell Suggs tearing his Achilles’ Tendon, the entire linebacking core for the Ravens was already under pressure heading into the 2012 campaign, especially outside linebacker Paul Kruger.

Now that Suggs, the reining NFL Defensive Player of the Year, will miss at least a portion of the 2012 season, Kruger’s role and production will be that much more important to a defensive unit that ranked No. 3 overall in the NFL last season.

Kruger, 26, is expected to take over Jarrett Johnson’s strongside linebacker spot, after Johnson signed a four-year deal with the San Diego Chargers in free agency. While Johnson was used primarily as a run-stopper, Kruger often replaced Johnson on third down and passing situations.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Kruger made strides as a pass rusher last season, recording 5.5 sacks in limited duty. However, how Kruger fares against the run is what will determine whether he can be an every down linebacker at the NFL level.

In addition to his 5.5 sacks, the University of Utah product recorded 15 tackles and two fumble recoveries.

Now, because of Suggs’ injury and Johnson’s departure, Kruger will have an opportunity to leave his imprint on this defense. Given his size and athletic ability, combined with his overall talent, Kruger has the makeup of being an impact player the Ravens defense will need this season.

Kruger and second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw will likely man the two starting outside linebacker’s position on the team, with Sergio Kindle and Albert McClellan remaining in the mix for playing time.

Kruger, a fourth-year veteran, will need to step up and be a leader this season. Because Upshaw will be learning on the fly, Kruger will have to be the more steady and reliable player and do his best to make up for the losses of Suggs and Johnson’s, which will be no easy task.

While improving against the run will be key, Kruger’s number one priority should remain getting to the quarterback. If Kruger can continue to make the strides he showed last season, an increased workload should result in a lot more sacks this season.

To think the Ravens can replace Suggs’ 70 tackles, 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles with one or even two players, is asking quite a bit. However, because of the depth and experience of this defense, Kruger should fit right in with what the Ravens are trying to do, and if he’s able to, there’s no telling how much damage he could do.

After producing last season in limited action, look for Kruger to have a breakout season this year with increased playing time.