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Utah Utes football: Kruger excited to get his NFL career started

BALTIMORE — Jerry Rosburg, the special teams coordinator/assistant head coach for the Baltimore Ravens, stood at one end of a practice field here Friday and shouted "Kruger!"

Paul Kruger was standing with another group of players about 25 yards away and ran toward Rosburg, who was conducting a punt protection drill on the first day of mini-camp.

"It is not a good thing when a coach screams your name," Kruger, the former University of Utah standout, said with a sheepish grin a few minutes later.

Kruger, a second-round draft pick of the Ravens in April, admitted after his first mini-camp session as a pro that he did not realize he was listed on the depth chart for punt protection. The defensive lineman/linebacker had a good excuse: He attended the wedding of his sister, Jessica, last Thursday night in Orem then took a red-eye flight via Salt Lake City and Los Angeles to a Baltimore-area airport.

Kruger arrived in Maryland around 6 a.m. Friday, took a team physical at a local hospital and was on the field here around 10:30 a.m. just as the first of three weekend sessions began.

"It is the same game. It is the same feeling," Kruger said of the transition to the pro game. "It is real exciting. You realize you haven't arrived, but you have the opportunity to reach your goals."

The Ravens didn't waste any time putting Kruger on the field against first-team quarterback Joe Flacco, who led Baltimore to the AFC championship game last season.

The former Ute star lined up at rush end and on one play put some pressure on quarterback John Beck, a former BYU star, in a controlled scrimmage with no tackling.

What is it like to be with a franchise known for its defense?

"It is a big deal. These guys are some of the best athletes in the world," Kruger said. "These are guys that have done some amazing things in the NFL. To be part of this is a phenomenal thing."

Kruger is open to playing on the line or at linebacker with the Ravens.

"They kind of left it up in the air," he told reporters after he was drafted last month. "They told me, 'We'll look at playing you at outside linebacker.' Or, put some weight on me and throw me down in a three-point stance. I think we'll just see."

He said he watched the AFC title game on television between the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Did he imagine he would be on one of those teams?

"I definitely thought it was possible," he said. "Especially one of those teams. It puts a whole new light that next year I am going to be here."

Kruger is the latest player with Utah ties to join the Ravens. Haloti Ngata (Salt Lake City) is an All-Pro defensive lineman, Dave Hale (Weber State) is a guard/tackle and Beck was signed as a free agent earlier this year.

"John Beck recently introduced himself. Those guys are certainly guys to look up to. It has been a fun couple of weeks," Kruger said.

Kruger made the NFL after just two years of college and two years of an LDS mission in Kansas City, and after he was stabbed while at the University of Utah. Kruger told the story of the stabbing after he was drafted by the Ravens during a conference call. Will he get tired of telling the story?

"I sort of am already," he said. "People want to know and they deserve to know what is going on. I do know coaches wouldn't take that big of risk if I wasn't 100 percent."

Kruger guarantees he is healthy.

"I feel I have been very blessed and fortunate in many ways," he said. "I feel like I was really fortunate."

He said his sister set her wedding day months ago and it was just a coincidence it was a day before he made his pro debut on the field.

"Unfortunately, it was bad since I missed the reception," he said.

But he didn't miss his first practice, even if the special teams coach had to track him down.

David Driver is a free-lance writer based in Maryland. He can be reached through his Web site at www.davidsdriver.com