Steelers: Joe Kruger The True Dark Horse On Defense
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been heralded for their talent at the Defensive End position. L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Aaron Smith, and Brett Keisel are just a few talented players at the position who have had spectacular careers in Steelers’ uniforms. The team heads into the 2015 season with two promising starters at either end of the defensive line, but depth at the position is uncertain.
Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt look to be a promising duo to terrorize offenses when September finally rolls around, but who will fall behind them when the team is required to trim the roster down to 53 men before the start of the season is one of many questions that must be addressed on the Steelers’ defense.
Clifton Geathers was signed in December of last year after Keisel was lost for the season due to injury, and was granted a one year contract extension this offseason. Even though he has not played a down in a Steelers’ uniform, his experience amidst a group of unproven talent was seen as valuable to the coaching staff.
You’ll hear about the likes of Matt Conrath, the behemoth former St. Louis Ram, as a dark horse candidate or practice squad stud Ethan Hemer, who many believed would be moved to the active roster before Geathers was signed. Small school rookies such as 6th round pick L.T. Walton from CMU and Liberty’s Niko Davis, who went undrafted, will also be vying for a job during training camp.
Buried under those who are thought to be definite locks for a roster spot is a man that you are not hearing much about as the Steelers slowly creep towards the start of training camp. In seventeen days, that same man will start a journey to attempt to make an active roster for the first time in his career.
That man’s name is Joe Kruger.
Including the Steelers, Kruger would spend time on four different teams in a span of four months in the 2014 season. After being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, he spent his entire rookie season on the injured/reserve list, only to be released a year later. The San Diego Chargers would toss him aside after less than a week on their roster, and was cut a little under a month after the Green Bay Packers claimed him.
The outcast Defensive End would have to wait three weeks until he was signed to the Steelers practice squad to add talent after the likes of Nick Williams and Josh Mauro were signed to other teams. Signing the 6’6″, 290 pound lineman was a low risk investment deal at the time, but for Kruger it is a chance to achieve something his older brother has been doing for a while now.
Paul Kruger is probably a name many in Steelers’ Nation know very well. He has been a terror for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense line. Playing for both the Baltimore Ravens, where he won a championship ring in Super Bowl XLVII, and the Cleveland Browns, he has made a name for himself in the AFC North.
With only three preseason games with the Eagles, where he most likely played very seldomly, Kruger does not have much to go off of in terms of tape. If you go back to his time at Utah, it can be seen that he utilizes his speed, along with his size, to seek out the quarterback. Since then he has bulked up to nearly 300 pounds, but it will only aid him in being a more fierce edge rusher.
If he could be compared to any former Steelers’ Defensive End, it would most likely be Brett Keisel. Only being a foot taller than Keisel, it can be seen that both attack offensive lines with a similar style. Only adding to the fact is that both played for colleges in Utah during their time in the NCAA, both were selected in the seventh round of the draft, and have worn #99 at some point in either college or the NFL.
With Keisel being released early this offseason, this leaves the number open for Kruger to claim. While many in Steelers’ Nation may think it too soon to be reissuing numbers of former players, it would be fitting for it to be granted to Kruger as a changing of the guard type situation. Most recently, Rod Woodson‘s #26 was given to Le’Veon Bell, and Ike Taylor‘s #24 was issued to Doran Grant.
Joe Kruger may be facing what could be insurmountable odds when it comes to making the 53 man roster, but the Steelers’ true dark horse on defense will train and play with the determination of a player who was thrown around from team to team before his potential could be realized. On July 25th, he will begin his journey in Latrobe, PA, in hopes that it will see him taking the field in Pittsburgh in 2015.
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