It’s hard to fathom that Paul Kruger used to be a quarterback when he was a freshman at the University of Utah.
The Baltimore Ravens’ defensive end scarcely resembles the relatively skinny rookie from last season who initially struggled to adjust to the increased physical nature of the NFL.
After devoting himself to an intense weightlifting regimen for the first time this offseason, Kruger has emerged as much bigger, stronger and tougher defensive lineman.
The former second-round draft pick has gained roughly 20 pounds from the end of last season and now tips the scales at a muscular 275 pounds. A lot of the weight that Kruger has gained is in his upper body as he’s suddenly sporting bulked-up biceps, shoulders and a barrel chest.
The transformation is dramatic, especially considering how Kruger has maintained his speed even at the heavier weight.
"I can definitely tell," said Kruger, who would like to gain another five pounds to reach 280 pounds. "Gaining weight for me has always been a struggle. My natural body weight is about 250, 245. I feel good, though.
"I feel explosive. It’s just changing direction and cutting on it. I can feel the weight kind of weigh me down a little bit, but I still feel athletic and fast. So, it’s been a good thing."
Kruger played sparingly last season, recording just a dozen tackles and four pass deflections. His most valuable contribution was a key interception that led to the game-winning field goal during an overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last season, Kruger was caught between two positions: outside linebacker and defensive end.
A classic hybrid player that the Ravens’ scouts look for to fortify their 3-4 defense, Kruger wasn’t especially fluid in pass coverage. And he lacked the bulk and repertoire of pass-rushing moves to consistently defeat offensive tackles that outweighed him by nearly 100 pounds in many cases.
Now, he’s a full-time defensive end.
Kruger is beginning to display that he’s capable of busting through blocks and penetrating the backfield. The added size makes a real difference.
"I’m carrying a little more bulk," Kruger said. "I’ve switched positions, which has been a little bit of a transition. Mainly, it’s been a good thing. I have more knowledge of the defense and also just the experience of last year really helps coming into a new season.
"You know what’s coming. You know what to expect, and you understand what the coaches want to see out of you. So, it’s a lot easier to set your goals accordingly and get your mindset right."
A year ago, there were loud whispers about Kruger’s intensity and readiness.
That has quieted considerably, though, and Kruger is drawing solid reviews as he battles for playing time behind veterans Cory Redding and Trevor Pryce.
Instead of strictly playing on the edge as a rush end as he did last year working behind Terrell Suggs, Kruger is now asked to line up inside at times.
"Your freedom is a little restricted when you’re inside because off the edge you’re worrying about one guy, but you’re kind of playing the field a little bit more," Kruger said. "Playing inside, I’m usually between two guys and it’s like working in a phone booth.
"I’m trying to become a more balanced player. It’s been a good process. Clarence Brooks is really helping me out. He’s been an awesome coach and all the coaches have been very influential. I’ve got a long ways to go, though."
Kruger has been experimenting with some new pass-rushing moves, including a rip, club, swim and spin.
He sacked quarterback Joe Flacco on Friday.
"Paul does look stronger and more physical," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he’s got to really hone up his technique a little bit. He’s working on that. As far as his takeoff and coming off the ball and taking on blocks, keep working on that at his new position. He’s doing a good job of that."
The biggest adjustment for Kruger is learning how to carry the weight.
Accustomed to less poundage, Kruger has compared the experience to carrying a weighted backpack.
"It’s a little bit hard when you’re trying to keep your speed and gain weight at the same time, so I’m trying to do that," Kruger said. "I’m trying to do that, but it’s been good so far. It’s coming slowly."
In two seasons as a starter at Utah before declaring for the NFL draft, Kruger registered 124 tackles, 10 ½ sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
However, he’s still looking for a similar contribution at this level.
"I feel like things are going well, but I need to become more of a playmaker on a day-to-day basis," Kruger said. "I feel like I’ll show spurts of some things I can do well and then I’ll be kind of average for a little bit. I just feel like I can be good all the time. So, I really want to get to that point where I’m making plays and being productive every day."