After becoming a second-round pick of the Ravens back in 2009, Paul Kruger spent the majority of his rookie contract trying to live up to his pedigree. After posting just one sack in his first season, he began to come along in year three before reaching nine sacks in 2012, followed by a productive postseason run, which he parlayed into a friendly contract with the division-rival Cleveland Browns that following offseason.
The result since then have been decidedly mixed. While he produced a career-best 11 sacks in 2014, his output plummeted to just 2.5 sacks a year ago. He also had only 4.5 sacks in 2013, in spite of the fact that he has started all but two games since arriving in Cleveland.
But Kruger believes things will be different this year, because the circumstances will be different. It starts with the health of the players around him, but he also believes that the return of defensive coordinator Ray Horton will also help to put him in the situations that will actually help facilitate his, and the defense’s, success.
Back in February when Horton spoke to the media, he talked about Kruger, who was brought in in 2013 while he was previously the defensive coordinator. He said that the defense was doing him no favors, in short, saying that “we need to help him”.
“We have to be able to give him a Batman to his Robin or a Robin to his Batman”, he told the media. “We have to give him help on the other side”. Of course, if you look at the Browns’ roster, they didn’t exactly have a lot of productivity in terms of getting after the quarterback, and especially not from the players they expected the most from.
The team believes that part of Kruger’s decline in production is tied to the fact that the defense suffered a lot of injuries around him, and that affected not just the supporting cast that he had around him, but also the way in which he was used, which was not always conducive to him playing his best and most effective football.
Returning a healthier, and deeper, roster, at least the theory goes, will only help get more out of Kruger, who also recorded only 27 tackles last season in about 700 snaps. But the Browns are not settling upon relying on players if they are not contributing.
In addition to Nate Orchard and Armonty Bryant, each of whom was relatively success rushing the passer relative to their playing time last year, the Browns also drafted two of the most productive college players in terms of compiling sacks in Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib, to go along with Joe Schobert, wherever they might wind up in the defense.
It was a move that Kruger felt was a step in the right direction, saying that “the more guys that are excelling at that, the better”, ‘that’ being pass rushing. “Everybody kind of feeds off each other that way”, he added. Kruger and the defense didn’t eat much last year. Horton and the fresh platoon of rushers look to change that in 2016.