Kruger Making Decisive Strides In Terrell Suggs' Absence
NOTEBOOK: PITTA SURGERY; FLACCO & UNITAS' DEMEANORS SIMILAR
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- On seemingly every snap, the Ravens' defense sends multiple players from multiple levels to the point of attack, be it the pass pocket or the running lane.
Tuesday afternoon, a day when the defense tried to regain its usual training-camp position of prominence and dominance against the offense, Paul Kruger was a big part of that.
It's something Kruger likes to do, but this particular season, it's also something he has to do.
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound second-round pick from Utah in 2009 has, like any young player, slowly attempted to learn the Ravens' aggressive scheme. But while with the Utes, he started two years at defensive end and seemed to get buried on the Ravens' depth chart as he tried to be more versatile.
"I've had to learn everything to learn to be full time at the position," said Kruger, who, in the wake of Terrell Suggs' Achilles tendon surgery, will be counted on more than ever to step up and provide the Ravens with a pass-rush and run-stuffing presence they will need.
Kruger and rookie top draft pick Courtney Upshaw, the likely starter opposite him, aren't really tied down to one position. Kruger will see a lot of time at the so-called "SAM" (strong-side) spot in place of departed free agent Jarret Johnson, but it would be no surprise to see him line up in Suggs' old rush spot.
Last season, Kruger posted a career-high 5.5 sacks, getting most of them during an impressive four-game midseason stretch against Jacksonville, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Seattle. He also posted two pass deflections and recovered two fumbles.
Kruger's durability had been questioned in the past, but after knee injuries and ineffectiveness cut short each of his first two seasons, he played all 16 games during a campaign for the first time in 2011.
That, plus the fact that Kruger has gone through a full offseason without a work stoppage just as he is rising to prominence, has helped him become more decisive in his movements.
"It's about me being me," Kruger said. "I'm just trying to be the best player I can be. ... I think I can do a lot of things. Last year, I felt real confident rushing the passer."
But it will take Kruger showing more leverage and obstinance as far as setting the edge, the oft-used term for a player that can stop the run from the second level, a task at which Johnson excelled.
"When we look at guys, be they pro free agents or from the draft," outside linebacker Ted Monachino said, "we ask them to do three things: set the edge, rush the passer and cover (receivers).
"When Paul clears things up mentally and focuses on one or two things, he's awfully tough to beat."
The mental challenge for Kruger has naturally followed the physical challenge of adjusting to life in the NFL.
"I have to play with good technique and good leverage," said Kruger, who Monachino said was his own worst critic. "I feel that I'm now heavy enough to be effective.
"I have really good days, some average days and some bad days, but every day is about getting better and better and getting more consistent."
Kruger certainly is looking forward to getting more playing time in Suggs' absence, but he is not alone in wishing that the man known as "T-Sizzle" would come back and play as quickly as possible.
"He's in there with us [in the linebackers' room] every day," Kruger said. "He's been mentoring me since I got here.
"Everybody is out here fighting. We want to be a great team this year."
Decisiveness, effectiveness and tenaciousness are qualities of which Kruger has always been made. Finally, he has a chance to show them off on the grandest scale yet.
INFIRMARY: Tight end Dennis Pitta had surgery on his broken hand and will miss 4-6 weeks, almost certainly ruling him out for at least the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"If we get him back earlier, that's a bonus," Harbaugh said.
Four Ravens returned to practice Tuesday afternoon: wideout Tommy Streeter, nose tackle Terrence Cody, wideout Devin Goda and, perhaps most importantly, tackle Ramon Harewood.
Harewood's return from a rolled ankle allowed the Ravens to exercise different offensive-line options, including trying out highly touted undrafted tackle Jack Cornell at left guard. Second-round rookie Kelechi Osemele earned most of the right-tackle field time as he continued to seemingly lock down that position.
Center Matt Birk was inactive for a second straight day, one day after he and other 30-and-older veterans were rested.
"He's at the point of his career when he'll be not practicing more than he'll be practicing," Harbaugh said.
Also, running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring) was not participating, as was the case with wideout Tandon Doss (hamstring), tackle Bryant McKinnie (back strain), linebacker Josh Bynes (unknown), nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu (unknown) and top draft pick Courtney Upshaw (shoulder).
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe had a thigh wrapped, but he continued to practice.
The four players that began the day on the Physically Unable To Perform list did not take the field: wideout David Reed, guard/tackle Jah Reid, defensive end Pernell McPhee and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
PRACTICE REPORT: Sunny and warm were the weather watchwords of the day for Tuesday afternoon's practice, the third during a four-day span to be fully padded. But the skies darkened greatly after the session and a thunderstorm rolled through the Under Armour Performance Center.
- The defense rebounded strongly from what has been a poor camp in general, with Monday's session particularly standing out. Safety Bernard Pollard picked off Joe Flacco's first team-period pass, and Ray Lewis was all alone in the end zone for another interception.
- Backup signal caller Tyrod Taylor distinguished himself with a perfectly thrown sideline pass to LaQuan Williams and a dart to the back of the end zone that was snagged by journeyman Logan Payne, who continues to impress.
- During an earlier period, Taylor was picked off by fifth-round rookie corner Asa Jackson, who came in for loud verbal praise not only from defensive coordinator Dean Pees, but from teammates working on the other half of the field. But Payne later beat Jackson to the end zone.
- Jackson got a second interception, this one off third-stringer Curtis Painter, after the quarterback juggled the snap and his timing was thrown off.
- Veteran tight end Davon Drew juggled and dropped a pass, and cornerback Danny Gorrer broke up a pass intended for speedster Deonte Thompson, who has had a good camp.
- If any receiver was going to make a play on this defensive-oriented day, it had to be wizened veteran Anquan Boldin, who easily beat Pollard on a slant. But Torrey Smith could not get free from Lardarius Webb in the back of the end zone, and the corner broke up the pass.
- Backup running back Anthony Allen caught a short pass in the flat a mere instant before linebacker Dannell Ellerbe would have administered a devastating hit.
- Reserve running back Bobby Rainey is generously listed as 5-foot-8, but one of the best all-purpose ball carriers in college football history repeatedly ran his way through the tall thicket of players in the middle of the line.
- Justin Tucker and Billy Cundiff have mirrored each other in the kicking battle, which took on ridiculous proportions Tuesday. Each of the two kickers made field goals from 35, 48 and 60 yards, but each missed from 55. Tucker was wide right and Cundiff hit the left upright, although both kicks had good distance. Both kickers did go awry later in rushed-on, game-type situations.
- A few officials from the NFL Players' Association were reportedly on hand at practice, ostensibly to see whether collective bargaining agreement guidelines were being followed. Also on the grounds was ex-Maryland defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who played in the NFL with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers, and current Terps head coach Randy Edsall.
- Tuesday's team-period rock music playlist included Phil Collins, Steppenwolf, U2 and The Clash, among other well-known classic artists. Also, the Styx song "Renegade" -- played at Heinz Field during Pittsburgh Steelers games -- was also heard.
- In a slight schedule change, the Wednesday practice -- originally scheduled to run from 2:30-5:15 p.m., was shortened to a 3-4:45 p.m. window.
FLACCO, UNITAS SIMILAR: As a child, your intrepid Ravens Report blogger got one of the luckiest breaks anyone could possibly get: having the great John Unitas as a neighbor and family friend for roughly two decades.
We always admired Unitas' bright, nonchalant smile and his accomodating ways, such as the many winters he would allow neighborhood kids to go sledding down the huge hill in his front yard in the winter and play football on the lawn in the summer and fall.
Take it from us: Unitas was an even better man than a quarterback, which is why the personality comparison with Joe Flacco that was raised on the Ravens' Web site seems so appropriate.
Like Flacco, Unitas -- who will have been gone 10 years on Sept. 11 -- wasn't the overtly emotional type. Rather, he was an unpretentious man, who simply knew what his job was and went out and did it.
Ravens corporate sales executive Chad Unitas -- John's son -- is qualified to compare the two.
"[My dad] would have liked the way Joe handles himself," Unitas told the site. "Dad never was a 'rah-rah' quarterback.
"It seems the way Joe is, too. He knows what he's supposed to do. He doesn't need to throw for 500 yards a game. He doesn't have to have four or five touchdowns a game. He knows how to manage the game, how to control the game. He can do it if he needs to, but it's not like he has that ego."
Unitas didn't have it, either. In fact, Chad Unitas said last year that his father would be more than all right with New Orleans' Drew Brees breaking his father's record of 47 straight games with a touchdown pass; the streak is currently at 43.
If Brees does it, the 48th game would be against San Diego, where John Unitas ended his career in 1973.
No one knows whether Flacco will set those kinds of records, but he is already on Unitas' level in one respect. As offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said last week: "[Flacco] is a special man. This is a special, special guy we have here."
LAUNDRY ISSUES: A recent Washington Post story detailed how Indianapolis head coach and ex-Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano threatened to eject a fan from practice for wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey (another former Baltimore mainstay, safety Tom Zbikowski, first spotted the fan).
The mere sight of an opponent's uniform doesn't just get fans fired up, but coaches, players and administrators as well.
In San Diego a few years back, a member of the media was cited and chastised for wearing a San Francisco 49ers T-shirt.
This was justified, for it's considered unprofessional for any press type to wear a logo, either of the team he/she is covering or of another team in that same league (unless the writer/blogger is employed directly by the team).
A situation similar to Pagano's took place involving the Ravens that turned out to be much ado about nothing.
Six years ago, a Ravens employee told the Ravens Report about how then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden had a fan wearing a Baltimore purple shirt thrown out of his training-camp workout. That year, the Ravens and Bucs were to meet in the season opener, heightening Gruden's sensitivity.
The Ravens ended up blowing out the Bucs, 27-0.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: From the stay-tuned file, an unnamed NFL front-office executive told Pro Football Weekly about a previously undisclosed, yet interesting development that could be taking place near our environs:
"[Washington Redskins general manager] Bruce Allen walks around trying to act like George Allen, but the new generation does not even know who [his father] was. The Ravens have taken over the state of Maryland. The Redskins have been pushed to the south in the state of Virginia.
"Washington, [D.C.,] used to be all Redskin country. Now it's all Ravens and Steelers. That is why Bruce is there. His brother [George] is [a prominent politician in] Virginia, and there's an exit plan to [build a new stadium in] Virginia. They have to be able to leverage the situation."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our last entry:
It comes as no surprise that the two active NFL quarterbacks with the highest postseason win percentage are both Super Bowl winners: Tom Brady (75 percent) and Ben Roethlisberger (71.4).
But among active signal callers with at least eight playoff starts, who has the highest postseason win percentage among quarterbacks that have never won a Super Bowl?
Following Brady and Roethlisberger in this statistical category are two-time champion Eli Manning (68.2 percent) and Super Bowl XLIV winner Drew Brees (55.6).
But tied for fourth with Brees is the first quarterback on the list that has not won a Super Bowl, and it's none other than Baltimore's Joe Flacco. Both he and Brees have won five of nine playoff appearances.
Using our parameters, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (4-2) would not qualify, because he has made only six playoff starts. But then again, neither would the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez (4-2), who, like Flacco, has made two conference-championship appearances, yet isn't often thought of as being in Flacco's class.
Two veteran quarterbacks that have made lots of playoff starts, but don't have Flacco-like win percentages, are Peyton Manning (9-10) and Matt Hasselbeck (5-6).
Two others that were highly touted when they came into the NFL have not won a playoff game at all, Oakland's Carson Palmer (0-2) and Atlanta's Matt Ryan (0-3).
Posted July 31, 2012