SALT LAKE CITY —
Pro Timing Day at the University of Utah had wound down to the last few drills, some of the hopefuls having already left, the rest scattered about like birds in a field. They had done what they intended, some better than others, but it was all in the books.
Yet out near the 25-yard line, several defensive linemen were still going full speed. One of them was Star Lotulelei, the celebrated Ute whose college career was everything his name implies. Experts believe he will go high in the draft, despite questions about a heart test a few weeks ago. Two others were Dave and Joe Kruger, both of whom could also be in the NFL in a matter of weeks.
Then there was Paul Kruger, the crème de la crème, fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens. Last month he signed a contract with Cleveland worth $40 million, half guaranteed. He was the only one not wearing workout gear on Wednesday. Instead, he was filming his brothers as they worked.
For those keeping score, that makes one NFL Kruger on the books, two in the wings. Asked who is the best athlete among them, Dave said, “Looks like, since Paul is being paid the most, he is the best athlete officially right now.”
It didn’t sound like the debate is over yet.
For those who follow football in Utah, the Krugers are as ubiquitous as fry sauce and families. Paul played on Utah’s Sugar Bowl team in 2009, and later for the Ravens, where he became a major force — so much so that they couldn’t afford to re-sign him due to cap constraints. Last season he registered nine sacks, plus another 4½ in the playoffs. So the Ravens let him walk and the Browns snapped him up for five years, at premium price.
Wild, isn’t it?
“That was my goal,” Kruger said of his quick rise. “It’s what I expected to do and I feel like things came together in the right way, and I’m definitely humbled by the experience and really blessed. But it’s a special thing and what I set out to do, and I’m kind of sitting where I wanted to be.”
As for his brothers, they too expect much. Dave had 30 combined tackles as a senior last season at Utah, and would have been attending Pro Day regardless. But Joe, also with a combined 30 tackles, surprised some by declaring himself eligible shortly after the season ended. He would have been a senior next fall.
Which raises the question: Why do some families get all the talent? Paul, an outside linebacker, is 6-feet-4, 270, but Dave is 6-5, 300 and Joe 6-7, 280. Talk about size and potential. If any of them ever needs a job, he can always work as a tower crane.
Wednesday had all the signs of a Kruger family reunion. You couldn’t call out the name without risking a stampede. Along with the three players, there was their mother, a regular attendee at Ute events.
“I mean, I’m just here looking at genetics and saying it’s a football family,” Browns defensive line coach Joe Cullen said.
“I don’t want to be high on my name,” Dave Kruger said, “but name recognition definitely helps. It doesn’t matter if I like it or not, it helps. It’s a good thing. I mean, if Paul were terrible at football ”
Turns out he’s not, and the name has traction in the pros. All but two teams were at Utah’s timing workout, all of them interested in the Krugers, as well as Lotulelei.
So it was that Cullen had both the younger Krugers working late on Wednesday, doing agility and power drills and playing Whac-a-mole with the tackling dummies.
“I think both Joe and Dave have great qualities and play really hard,” Cullen said. “It’s hard to project, but they’re big, strong and fast, and there will be a place for them. Absolutely.”
As for their older brother, the only place he needs is somewhere to store his cash.
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