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It's easy for critics of the Baltimore Ravens to point at the team's draft selections of Paul Kruger (2nd round) and Lardarius Webb (3rd round) and conclude that those choices mirror two previous draft picks that proved to be major busts - namely Dan Cody and David Pittman, respectively.
Kruger like Cody was pegged to go in the first round of the NFL Draft but slipped to the second. Both played defensive end in college and while these similarities help explain the comparisons the only other parallel between the players is that both are white.
If Kruger was an African-American would people be making the same comparisons to Cody?
I doubt it!
The differences between the two are far more pronounced than the similarities.
"Let's face it Cody had a lot of catastrophic injuries and while Kruger has had his share they aren't structural injuries like Cody's", said Eric DeCosta, Ravens Director of Personnel during a recent interview.
"Kruger is much stronger and has the potential to be bigger. His lower body today is far more developed than Dan's was even after 3 years of working with our strength and conditioning coaches."
DeCosta added, "Kruger was also a quarterback in high school so he has a unique sense for the game from a DE's perspective. That experience affords him ball skills and ability in space uncommon for a player of Paul's size."
Cody lacked the open field nimbleness that Kruger possesses and that makes it difficult for a player like Cody to shape his game in the mold of other Ravens once considered to be "tweeners" like Adalius Thomas, Terrell Suggs and even Jarret Johnson. Consequently, Cody needed to bulk up in order to be more like Trevor Pryce for example. Unfortunately, his trunk couldn't support the added weight as evidenced by Cody's lengthy history of leg injuries.
Webb draws comparisons to Pittman because both were third round choices from small schools. That combination didn't work for Pittman and the Ravens leaving some insiders to believe that the Ravens would steer clear of small school corners going forward.
But Webb is a small school corner with a twist having competed against Division I teams while at Southern Miss prior to transferring to Nicholls State in 2007. Plus Webb impressed the Ravens' scouts with a level of toughness that Pittman clearly lacked.
"Baltimore was too big for Pittman" DeCosta explained. "And let's keep in mind that the NFL is a tough, physical game and it's important to have a demeanor to match. We've learned that that can be more important than whether or not a corner can flip their hips quickly. Webb in our opinion is one of the most physical players pound for pound in the 2009 NFL Draft."
Webb is also the only player in NCAA Division I history to receive the conference awards of Offensive Player of the Week, Defensive Player of the Week, and Special Teams Player of the Week in a single season.
Both Kruger and Webb possess an intangible quality that attracted the Ravens to them and further differentiates the two from Cody and Pittman. Both had to face adversity during their collegiate careers and each emerged victoriously.
In January 2008, Kruger survived a brawl while defending his sister. The Las Vegas Police Department concluded that a gang was responsible for the attack that left Kruger with life threatening injuries requiring 50 staples to close the incisions made during surgery. Yet he returned to the field at the University of Utah that fall.
Webb was kicked off the team at Southern Miss because he got in some off campus trouble while running with the wrong crowd. He vowed to clean up his act, committed himself to his faith has his life pointed in the right direction. Moreover, Webb is a huge fan of Ed Reed's and relishes the opportunity to play beside the perennial Pro Bowler. During OTA's Webb was like a sponge, absorbing the intricacies of the Ravens defense from Reed and Ray Lewis. Clearly a tough challenge but one that Webb welcomes with open arms.
"I'm learning how to see the game from Ray and Ed, how to let plays come to you by anticipating and figuring out what the offense is trying to do," Webb said. "I'm excited about everything. I can't wait for the season to start. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I'm getting there."
Challenges are many in the NFL and at times they can be steep particularly for a rookie. When young players face the best on a regular basis they will be beaten and humbled. How they respond to the beat downs, to the adversity builds character and makes a player stronger.
It might also break them...
Many enter the NFL never having faced adversity. Perhaps some were coddled, perhaps for some things came too easily. That's not the case for Kruger or Webb.
Both have weathered their personal storms. They arrive with battle tested wills and they are equipped to handle the failures inevitably in store for both Kruger and Webb.
And then one day we can all criticize the critics who mention the pair in the same sentence as Cody and Pittman.