Not so much because of any lingering hard feelings from rejection.
And everything worked out perfectly. He performed well enough for four seasons – producing at the highest level in the fourth – to become one of the most coveted players in free agency. Then, in March, Kruger signed a hefty deal to play for the Cleveland Browns.
No, the raw emotions that the outside linebacker is feeling as he prepares to face his former team for the first time Sunday at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium have more to do with how he was perceived with the Ravens than their failure to re-sign him when his contract expired.
And the perception was this: Kruger was a situational player whose success mostly resulted from opposing offenses paying greater attention to teammates, such as fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, than to him.
“For me, there’ll be a little edge there for sure,” Kruger said.
In his first game with the Browns, last Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, he was on the field for 64 defensive snaps, roughly 94 percent of the time. And Kruger made an impact, registering a sack among his four tackles (with two for a loss) and a quarterback hurry.
As a pass-rusher, he picked up where he left off in his previous game that counted, the Super Bowl. Kruger had two sacks in the Ravens’ victory against the 49ers while working primarily as a pass-rush specialist and being on the field for only 22 snaps. That pushed his postseason total to 4.5 after he had reached a career high in the regular season with nine.
It would be fair to say that Sunday’s game marked the beginning of Kruger’s efforts to prove that not only is he worthy of the big payday he received, but that he can thrive as an every-down defender who can do more than rush the quarterback.
“I felt it was a good start,” Kruger said. “That’s been a huge focus for me, personally, just being an every-down guy, playing the run strong and then continuing to build on the pass rush.”
He was especially proud of the fact that the Browns limited Miami to a mere 20 rushing yards.
He believes it will take a similar effort to give them their best chance to win on Sunday.
“I think it starts with (Ravens running back) Ray Rice,” Kruger said. “You’ve got to stop that running attack because they have good offensive linemen that can pull with (guards Marshal) Yanda and (Kelechi) Osemele. I have a lot of respect for those guys. They can move, they’re strong, they can do a lot of things, so for Ray to be able to run behind those guys and then (fullback) Vonta Leach, that sets the tone for a lot of their drop-back passes.”
Spoken like someone with a thorough understanding of the Ravens.
Kruger won’t deny that he still has feelings for his former team and everything associated with it.
“I had a great experience in Baltimore,” he said. “I loved it there. I’ve got so many people over there I still keep in contact with.
“But I’m not there anymore and this is my home now. I love it here and I want to help us get to where we want to be.”
Doing so means, in part, making his first game against the Ravens personal.
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