by Chris Warner

picAt the NFL combine, Paul Kruger measured 6-foot-4, 263 pounds, the size of a prototypical outside linebacker in a 3-4 system like New England’s. While the former Utah defensive end wants to show that he can adapt to a new position, a brief look at his career proves that he already has.

In 2004, he entered college as a top-ranked quarterback. After watching the Utes go undefeated while waiting out his redshirt freshman season, he embarked on his Mormon mission for two years. Kruger returned to the team in 2007 and made the switch to defensive end, starting the last 11 games and tallying 63 total tackles. He wrapped up his sophomore year with 7.5 sacks to help the Utes go 13-0 this past season.

Kruger has been a busy man of late, preparing for and traveling to meetings with various NFL teams. In the midst of the pre-draft madness, he spent a few minutes on the phone with PD.

So, with all your travels and everything you’re up to…where are you right now?

I’m in Utah. Salt Lake. Just working out, hanging out with the family and getting prepared for a few more of these (team) workouts.

Do you have a bunch lined up for the next couple weeks?

Yeah, I’ve got a few. I mean, I’m not busy every day, but I’ve got Denver, Miami, Kansas City.

Is there anything you think you want to demonstrate in your workouts that you weren’t able to show (previously)?

I think I’ve basically shown, you know, the gist of who I am, but I want coaches to be very confident with my abilities at outside linebacker or defensive end. I feel like I have very good skills at both positions. Any team that’s willing to take a risk with me is definitely not going to be disappointed, so I’m just prepared for whatever team decides to go with me.

Could you talk about that a little bit, about the…potential transition from defensive end to outside linebacker?

The transition wouldn’t be too much. I mean, I stood up a lot in college. I think you’ve just got to get more used to playing on two feet instead of in a three-point stance, and every once in a while dropping back and covering a running back or two, and a tight end. It’s just a matter of practice…but, you know, it’s nothing too dramatic. It’s going to be easy to transition, and I’m a very coachable guy, so I think it will be fine either way.

In terms of being coachable, what do you think in your college experience has helped you reach that point?

When you grow up playing football, and you play in college, you know, I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m very familiar with what coaches want to see, and I know how people want players to react, so it’s just a matter of being willing to do it. A lot of guys struggle with that, (but) that’s just not one of the areas I struggle with. I think it’s just accepting (that) you’re all on a team and doing it the best you can.

Now you’re coming out as a sophomore but you’ve had kind of an unusual path there. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Yeah, I mean, the mission was the biggest thing (in regards to) that. I’m 23 right now, so I’m ahead of everybody in my class as far as my age goes. I’m the same age as the seniors coming out, and that’s the main contributing factor as to why I came out. There’s a few other reasons, but that’s the big one. Just the fact that I’m two years older, and I want to be successful. I want to be very good in the NFL, and I think the timing of that is crucial…

In terms of timing, do you think it’s better to get on this sooner rather than later?

I think so. For me, at least, that was the better option. I felt a lot more comfortable coming out 23 years old versus 25. If I were a coach, that would be a factor as well, because you’ve got to look at a player’s life in terms of (an NFL) life span. Guys are only going to play football for so many years. When you’re already 25 years old, in the league you’re kind of in a down slope already coming in, just because of how common it is that players are done by that time if not just a few years after. So I felt being 22, 23, was a big deal for me.

What teams have you spoken with so far?

At the combine, I spoke with 25 teams, so I’ve pretty much talked with every team in the NFL. After the combine, I talked with Seattle, the Colts and a few other teams. It’s been an exciting process. I’m just looking forward to seeing what happens in April.

Have you been speaking to the Patriots at all?

I’ve met with the staff, but I would love to have more contact. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get a trip or work out, but it definitely would be a place I would love to go.

It seems like a lot of 3-4 (defensive) teams are looking at you and players like you for this draft.

Right. Looking for that hybrid-type player.

Exactly. What are some of the interview questions like? What is that process like?

It’s as in-depth as you can imagine. They want to know everything about your history, your family, your high school. You know, I’ve had coaches call my high school coaches, so it’s definitely something (where) they take a lot of time and energy (and) invest it into the player. They ask you any question you can imagine, and every one’s got different things that they’d like you to be more specific on. But generally it’s just football questions and more psychological-type questions, like what do you feel your weaknesses are, strengths are? Are you a leader, are you a good teammate? All that kind of stuff.

When you keep answering questions like that, do you ever feel your answers get a little too rote or a little too practiced?

Yeah, I think that’s true for most players. I mean, you answer a lot of similar questions. If you answer the same, you know you’re answering a lot, so you’re pretty much saying the same thing 20 times.

You ever try to throw a curveball in there, or have a curveball thrown at you?

(Laughs) Yeah, for sure. Coaches always come up with stuff that they want to know about. You want to have personality and show diversity…so you’re definitely trying to be yourself and have fun with the interviews and all that stuff. You’re not a robot or anything, but a lot of the questions are the same.

Well, one thing that’s kind of different was Utah’s record…This past year and your redshirt freshman year, the team went undefeated. What do you think is special about them, and why do you think Utah doesn’t get as much love as it should?

I don’t think we get as much love, even here, at any given time. Our conference is supposedly weaker, our preseason games generally aren’t as competitive as other teams’ are. There’s a couple of reasons in general why we aren’t given as much love. You know, I think we proved to everyone this year and in 2004 that we shouldn’t be underestimated and that we deserve as much respect as anybody else is getting, if not more. Our record proves what kind of team we are. We beat the supposed number two, number one team in the nation in our (Sugar Bowl) game. We didn’t just beat them, we crushed them (Note: Utah 31, Alabama 17). That proved who we were. So, I don’t know why it is that we don’t get as much respect, but that’s just how it is. We’ve dealt with it thus far and done well, and I think we’ll continue to do well. Coach (Kyle) Whittingham’s put together a great team again, so I have no doubt that Utah will continue to succeed and be in those types of situations.

Could you talk about the Sugar Bowl? What was the basic game plan? It just seemed like you guys had them from the start.

You know, going in we felt like we had some things that we could throw at them. I don’t know exactly what the (Ute) offense was doing, but on the defensive side of the ball we wanted to get in the backfield as much as humanly possible, create turnovers, and all the stuff that defenses like to do. We had a good day with it. It worked and everyone was happy. It was a good day.

As a defensive end, what do you think are your strengths? What is your best move, for example?

I think just getting in the backfield. I think I create a lot of havoc for an offense because I can do a number of things. I’m good at defending the run, I can get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. I think my strength is just being athletic and creating disturbances in an offensive scheme.

Well, Paul, I want to thank you very much.

Thanks a lot.

Thanks to Paul’s agent David Canter for his help in setting up this interview.