OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Paul Kruger played on the defensive line early in his career with the Baltimore Ravens. But now, in his third NFL season, the former University of Utah standout has found a home at outside linebacker.
"This year I played a different position. It is a completely different situation. That is the biggest transition this year," Kruger said following a morning practice this week at the Ravens' facility in suburban Baltimore.
Kruger has taken advantage of the opportunity for the Baltimore defense, which will have to contend with New England and quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday in the AFC title game at New England's Gillette Stadium.
A 6-foot-4, 265-pounder, Kruger had 5.5 sacks in regular-season play, ranking him third on the team. He played in all 16 games and had a career-high 15 tackles for a team that ranked third in the NFL in defense while allowing 288.9 yards per game. Kruger had two sacks for minus 19 yards against the Cardinals on Oct. 30 and had his first career fumble recovery — which led to a field goal — on Oct. 2 against the Jets.
In last Sunday's playoff victory over Houston, Kruger was part of a defense that forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, in the 20-13 home victory.
"I got in on about 10 or 15 plays," Kruger said. "Things are slowly coming together. I am trying to take advantage of the opportunities that I am given."
Kruger, who was born in Idaho, went to Timpanogos High in Orem. He was drafted in the second round by the Ravens in 2009. He saw limited action in his first two NFL seasons as he played in 20 games — with one start — and had totaled 13 tackles heading into the 2011 campaign.
He said it would have been nice to start at outside linebacker as a rookie, but he's not one to dwell on it.
"I do wish I would have played that position from the start. But I took away a lot and learned from it," he said. "It was a win-win situation."
Kruger feels confident going into the game against New England.
"The biggest thing is to do what we have to do on third down to limit the New England passing game," he said. "I don't think they will be able to run the ball against us."
Bernard Pollard, a safety for the Ravens, said of New England: "They are capable of scoring at any point. We are excited. We are excited for the challenge. This is where we want to be. We are hungry. We are ready to go."
Kruger, who turns 26 in February, said he watched on television as Brady threw five touchdown passes in the first half against Denver last weekend.
"It is obviously a different perspective. It is fun to sit back and watch" at home, he said. Kruger, who won't be able to relax Sunday, is happy he has persevered with the Ravens.
"I think there was a lot of pressure, but I think there is for every player who comes into this building," Kruger told The Baltimore Sun earlier this season. "Everyone is expected to perform at a high level, everyone is expected to make plays. So there was that pressure on me, but I wouldn't say that it was just on me. I definitely felt that, and I knew it was disappointing for people not to see me on the field, but the thing I'll say is that I'm my own worst critic. I put more pressure on myself than anyone could imagine and even though others may not see that, I'm extremely competitive. I hate the thought of not performing and doing what I know I can do."
Kruger said he has learned a lot from Haloti Ngata, an all-Pro defensive tackle for the Ravens who is from Highland High in Salt Lake City. "The guy is great. He has been a leader since I got here," Kruger said.
The defensive line coach for Ngata is Clarence Brooks, who went to high school in New Bedford, Mass., and played at the University of Massachusetts. "He knows how to motivate guys," Kruger said of Brooks, who hopes his homecoming will bring Kruger and the Ravens one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens at
New England Patriots
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: CBS Radio: 1320AM
New York Giants at
San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
TV: FOX Radio: 1320AM