Browns linebacker Paul Kruger
Sometimes in football, or any career, people have a period of time they need to crumple up and throw in the trash. Forget that it ever happened.
"We're putting the past behind us," linebacker Paul Kruger said on Monday after the start of the Cleveland Browns' voluntary workouts. "We're moving forward."
There really is no sugarcoating it: Kruger's first season with the Browns lacked the sizzle it was supposed to bring.
Kruger was a catalyst on the 2012 Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens, and his addition to the Browns was hailed as one of the best moves last offseason. Many thought No. 99's arrival would catapult the Browns' defense to the next level.
Analysts tend to look at the 4.5 sacks Kruger posted and call his performance a disappointment. That isn't entirely valid. Kruger's 24 quarterback harassments were second on the Browns. He forced two fumbles and tallied 11 tackles for a loss. There was significant production, and even more that is untapped.
Many reasons could be blamed for Kruger's paltry sack total. Pressure to put up big numbers, a nagging finger injury, and the fact that he was now the featured pass rusher all contributed to spiraling Kruger's season in a different direction than hoped. It isn't fair to entirely pin all the blame on Kruger. The Browns ranked 24th as a unit and opponents converted 45 percent of their third downs.
A solution to correct the problems is in sight. Enter coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. Both have proven track records of building ferocious defenses with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
The new chefs in the kitchen have Kruger and his Browns' teammates enthusiastic about the potential results.
"The scheme has proven success, I'm real excited to be a part of it," said Kruger. "The attack mentality, the intensity with how [the Bills] played … they were a respected defense."
Another significant factor for Kruger's improvement is the additions of linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner. Offenses must account for both players' whereabouts on every snap, or they'll end up paying a price.
The pair of veterans should help free up Kruger to make more of an impact. And he reiterated there's a new attitude in the building with a higher level of intensity.
"I trust the guys running things here that we have the right people here," Kruger said. "We have high expectations as a team."
The 28-year-old linebacker enjoyed the brief vacation at his home in Utah, relaxing with family and enjoying the outdoors. Even though the regular season is still five months away, Kruger relishes being back in Cleveland. "It's time to get to work," said Kruger.