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Banner, Chudzinski focus on improvements

Posted Mar 13, 2013

Under the leadership of Joe Banner, Michael Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski, the Browns have hit the ground running in free agency.

In the first 24 hours of the new NFL season, the Cleveland Browns added outside linebacker Paul Kruger, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, and linebacker Quentin Groves through free agency.

The three free-agent signings are expected to help the Browns transition from a 4-3 defense they ran the previous two seasons back to a 3-4 front.

“You go in with a plan,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said of free agency Wednesday. “You’re competing with 31 other teams, so you don’t know what your success rate’s going to be.”

“We’ve added a few guys and addressed some areas that are important to us,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “If you look at the lines, up front, and in this case, the front seven, it’s a key area. Year-in and year-out, the teams that had the guys up front to be able to play and sustained injuries and go through the course of the season and were productive and got after the quarterback, it’s a critical area. We have a long ways to go. We have a lot of things to do, a lot of things to accomplish yet, but we’re real happy with Paul and the other guys that we’ve been able to add.”

Kruger was the team’s first free-agent signing this year. He brings four years of professional experience to Cleveland after being selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. In four years with Baltimore, Kruger registered 70 tackles, 15.5 quarterback sacks, a pair of interceptions and 14 passes defended. He also forced one fumble and recovered three others.

Kruger registered 4.5 sacks in four postseason games in 2012, including two against Colin Kaepernick in Baltimore’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

“I don’t think there’s anybody around the league that hasn’t noticed that in the time that he’s played, Paul’s been an extremely productive player,” Banner said. “His numbers of plays have increased. Everybody playing against him has been noticing him, and finally, this year, he got up to 69 percent playing time and you saw his production.

“In terms of building a sustainable and successful team, we want players that we think they’re at a point where they’re playing very well and are likely to sustain that level of play over a long period of time. It’s one of the things that we’re looking at.”

Kruger had a career year in 2012, when he led the Ravens with nine sacks, and accounted for 24.3 percent of the team’s 37 sacks last fall. He set career bests for total tackles (42), unassisted stops (30), passes defended (six), interceptions (one), and forced fumbles (one) for Baltimore.

“Paul had opportunities and we did a comprehensive study on all the snaps,” Chudzinski said. “We went back through the season and even looked at some of the seasons before. Fortunately, in San Diego, I’ve had a chance to play against him before, and you’re familiar with guys around the league.

“Paul’s a physical football player, a high-motor, high-effort football player. He’s going to out-work people on the field. You know his pass-rush ability and the explosiveness he has there, but you see those abilities in the run game. What we’re looking for in Paul is to be able to play and be a three-down player.”

Chudzinski said Kruger will be one of the team’s outside linebackers in their 3-4 formation, but that the young veteran is versatile enough to move around and be an every-down player.

“One of the things that Paul really brings to the table is his versatility,” Chudzinski said. “When you do get into some of the nickel packages and sub-packages, four downs, he can play defensive end. He’s also moved around; is a move-around guy that can play on both sides. Paul’s versatility and his ability to play multiple positions was a major factor in us wanting Paul to be here.”