BEREA — Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger admits being excited about facing his former team for the first time.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, though, hopes he isn’t too amped up Sunday when Cleveland plays the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
“The thing we have to do is keep him from hyperventilating when he goes back from Baltimore,” Horton said. “Paul is going to be one of our stalwarts. We need him to play well.
“He’s taken on a leadership role and is comfortable being here. He’s one of our important guys, so we need him at his best.”
The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder played at a high level in the Browns’ 23-10 season opening loss to Miami. He made a career-high tying seven tackles — three for a loss — with one sack of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
But none of those were the most important number on the day to Kruger. He played 64 out of a possible 68 defensive snaps, illustrating the huge role that he now has in Cleveland.
Kruger still bristles about only logging 22 snaps in Super Bowl XLVII, which Baltimore won 34-31 over San Francisco on Feb. 3.
“To have limited reps in the biggest game of your life, it’s tough, and I think anyone who didn’t say that would be lying to you,” the 29-year-old native of Orem, Utah said. “I’m a competitive guy and I want to be in there on every play.
“I don’t know if disrespect is the right word to describe what I was feeling. I would say I was more frustrated, personally, not having anything to do with anybody else.”
Once the Ravens allowed Kruger to become an unrestricted free agent, the Browns made him their top offseason priority. He signed a five-year, $40 million contract on March 12, giving Cleveland one of the most sought-after defenders on the market.
“We’re awfully glad to have Paul here,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “He’s been a lot more than just a player for us. He’s been a leader and a guy that our players really respect and look up to. Certainly, we’re needing him to have a big game this week.”
Though Kruger and the rest of the 2012 Ravens received their Super Bowl rings in June, their championship banner will be unveiled just before kickoff against Cleveland. He said he doesn’t plan on watching the ceremony because he will be fully focused on their current team.
“As soon as I knew I was coming here, being able to play against those guys twice every year, I knew it was going to be intense,” said Kruger, who led Baltimore with 13½ sacks last season, 4½ of them during the postseason.
“I have a lot of personal relationships with guys on the other side of the field, so there is some added incentive, but all I’m going to be worried about is trying to help the Cleveland Browns win the game.”
Those words were music to the ears of Browns inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson, who has welcomed his former rival with open arms.
“He hasn’t been different at all this week, but I know Paul is digging deep for this one, he really wants this game,” Jackson said, smiling. “Everyone wants to get to the mountaintop, and he’s been there last season. I’m going to keep my eyes on him all day because it’s going to be fun watching him play.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.