When Paul Kruger decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility at Utah to turn pro last year, everyone assumed the defensive line would be hurting.
But as much as the Utes will miss their all-conference defensive end, their line is deeper than ever and could include another Kruger.
Paul's younger brother, David, has made huge strides this year, and according to Ute coaches could see a lot of time on the line as a redshirt freshman.
"No question, I've been saying all camp that he's one of the guys that has really stepped up since spring ball," said coach Kyle Whittingham.
"He's a whole new kid since the spring," added John Pease, Utah's new defensive line coach, who expects David Kruger to see a lot of action this fall.
Big things were expected from Kruger when he first came to Utah out of Timpanogos High, following in his brother's footsteps. However, he struggled his first season and even though the Utes had a thin defensive line, Kruger never saw action and was redshirted.
Kruger didn't have the greatest spring either, but as his coaches said, he's a new player this fall.
Ask him why and Kruger says, " I'm more mature. I'm a lot more calm in practice and not all tensed up so that definitely helps a lot. It's been a fun camp for me so far."
The 6-foot-5, 272-pounder says Paul has helped him to progress as a football player.
"He's taught me a lot of things," he said. "My technique, how to move my feet and hands. He's been a big help to me just being a good example."
David is the third of six children of Paul and Jennifer Kruger. His older sister, Jessica, married Ute starting offensive guard Tony Bergstrom in May, bringing another Ute connection to the Kruger family.
David says he tries to keep in touch with Paul, but it's been difficult the last few weeks.
"Right now it's hard to keep in touch with my older bro, just because he's in camp and I'm in camp and there's a time difference as well," he said. "So every time I get out of camp, he's about to go to bed or already asleep. It's hard to communicate with him. I haven't been able to watch him on TV either, but I've heard a lot of good things."
Unlike his brother, David said he doesn't have plans to go on an LDS mission and will have three straight years to play after this one.
As good as he is, Kruger is going to have some serious competition on the defensive line in the coming years.
Aside from projected starter Keape Eliapo, who is a senior, the rest of the tackles are underclassmen, including sophomores Lei Talamaivao and Sealver Siliga and Latu Heimuli, LT Tuipulotu and Jeremiah Tofaeono, who are true freshman.
"That group of young defensive tackles is as good as we've ever had here," said Whittingham.
Utah camp report
Thursday: The Utes had a single practice, in the morning, at the baseball field.47 comments on this story
Standouts: Head coach Kyle Whittingham noted that wide receiver John Peel, running back Matt Asiata and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester practiced well.
Injuries: Defensive end Koa Misi is out indefinitely with a back injury. Right guard Walter Watts hyperextended his left knee, but it is not deemed serious.
Next: The Utes complete two-a-days with a morning session at the stadium and an early evening practice at the baseball field.