2. Paul Kruger needs to set the edge better against the run or there will be major breakdowns this season.

Ever since the Ravens decided to part ways with fan favorite Jarret Johnson this offseason, the question with Paul Kruger has been, and still is, whether he’s capable of being an every-down player. Kruger was drafted as a pass-rushing specialist, and in 18 games in 2011, he recorded 6.5 sacks, including one of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC championship game. But to be more than just a part-time player, Kruger must do the unheralded dirty work in the trenches like Johnson and rehabbing AFC Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, setting the edge to funnel opposing running backs toward the middle of the field. He has been on the podium two or three times since Johnson left and has been peppered with questions about this every time. I’m not going to sit here and act as if I, with my powerful 180-pound frame, know the proper way to use technique and leverage to steer a 320-pound offensive tackle into the backfield. But I noticed at least four times Thursday night when Kruger either got beaten around the edge by the running back or shoved wide by a lineman so the running back could cut inside of Kruger. His eyes after the game were the confirmation I needed; when I asked him to sum up his Thursday performance, they stayed glued to the locker room floor. “Man. First of all, let me start off by saying that our team played awesome. Personally, this is one of the most frustrating games for me,” said Kruger, who also gave the Jaguars a first down in the red zone by committing a defensive holding penalty. “I made a few critical errors and there is a lot of stuff to clean up on tape. I had a few runs bounce outside on me that I’m disappointed about. ... I never want to give that edge up.” Kruger admitted to being hesitant on a few plays, and it wouldn’t be fair to blame him if he doesn’t feel comfortable yet in his new role. As a rookie in 2009, he was the primary backup to Suggs at rush linebacker. The next year, the Ravens bulked him up so he could move inside to defensive end. Last year, he was back to outside linebacker. He was penciled in to replace Johnson on the strong-side this spring before the most valuable Achilles tendon on the Baltimore defense snapped, putting even more pressure on Kruger to produce. He recorded two tackles against the Jaguars, giving him seven total tackles in the team’s three preseason games. But Jacksonville’s biggest gain on the ground came in the first quarter when Kruger got caught flat-footed and allowed running back Rashad Jennings to beat him around the left end to gain 15 of his 57 yards in the game. Those kinds of breakdowns will lead to bigger gains -- and maybe a long touchdown or two -- if they aren’t corrected going forward. Kruger wants to show up on the highlight reel, but not as a blur on someone else’s.
Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.
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