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Browns LB Paul Kruger's renewed excitement for 2016 comes from multiple places

Veteran linebacker Paul Kruger returned to Berea last month with less hair and more optimism about his role in the Browns defense.

The formerly long-haired Kruger is sporting an "all business" haircut as he enters his eighth NFL season, fourth with the Browns. And his mindset, after a disappointing season for the entire Browns defense, has been all positive.

"I believe that we are in a position to put ourselves exactly where we want to be in 2016," Kruger said. "There is nothing that I want more than to be a part of that transition. We have been working our tails off. Guys are putting a lot of hard work in. Coaches are enthusiastic. It is a very positive atmosphere right now. I've got to tell you, it's an exciting environment right now."

Kruger's excitement stems from a couple of different places.

When Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton met with reporters in February, he was adamant about positioning Kruger in a place he'd be comfortable. Injuries to the players around Kruger affected his ability to get to the quarterback in 2015, both from the aspect of what he was asked to do and the support he received on the opposite side of the line.

After piling up a career-best 11 sacks in 2014, Kruger finished with 2.5 in 2015. Kruger said he envisions taking on a more "traditional" outside linebacker role compared to last season.

"We have to help him. We have to be able to give him a Batman to his Robin or a Robin to his Batman, whoever he wants to be in the equation. We have to give him help on the other side," Horton said. "Obviously in this league, you can't just rush. You can't be one-dimensional. You can't rush all the time. You've got to drop. You've got to do different things. Whether we rush eight guys or whether we rush three, you have to do what's called on the defense. We are going to give him opportunities. There is no question about it."

The help started coming at the very beginning of Day 2 of the 2016 NFL Draft. In consecutive picks, the Browns added Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah and Penn State's Carl Nassib, who finished last season fourth and first in college football, respectively, in sacks. Ogbah is expected to begin his career in the same room as Kruger while Nassib projects to be a defensive lineman.

On Day 3, Cleveland added Wisconsin linebacker Joe Schobert, who was an outside linebacker in college but has the ability to play on the inside, too. The rookies will join a pass-rushing group that includes Armonty Bryant, Barkevious Mingo and Nate Orchard.

"The more guys that are excelling at that, the better," Kruger said before the draft. "Everybody kind of feeds off each other in that way."

Kruger has fed off the energy from coach Hue Jackson and Horton, the latter of whom was certainly a familiar face when he arrived for offseason workouts. Horton was Cleveland's defensive coordinator when Kruger signed as a free agent in 2013, a year that saw the Browns compile 40 sacks.

Kruger said he has a "tremendous amount of respect" for Horton, who has been lauded for his dedication to finding ways to increase Cleveland's pass rushing prowess.

"I love the way he coaches. It's a lot of fun," Kruger said. "It is nice that it is familiar and just knowing what to expect. He is a guy that just really respects you as a player, talks to you like a man and expects you to go get it done. A lot of guys respond well to it."

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