BEREA, Ohio—Paul Kruger has had the type of year the Browns imagined when they signed him to a large unrestricted free agent contract in 2013.
Kruger picked up his team-leading 10th sack last week against the Bengals and is just four shy of the Browns franchise record of 14 set by Reggie Camp in the 1980’s.
“We’re hoping to get him 14-plus,” Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “That way, he can break the franchise record.”
Kruger had 4.5 sacks in his first year with the Browns after coming from the Ravens where he had eight sacks in the regular season with Baltimore and concluded with two sacks in the Super Bowl after the season.
O’Neil was asked what the difference was playing in his system versus last year’s defensive scheme under Ray Horton.
“I can’t speak about last year because I wasn’t here, but I think Paul has done a really nice job,” O’Neil said. “We’ve obviously changed a lot technique-wise from what he’s been used to, our system compared to previous systems that he might have played in. I think (assistant linebackers coach) Brian Fleury has done a great job with him.
“I think Paul bought into the fact that we have to stop the run early, get teams behind the sticks and that’s going to allow me to go rush the passer,” O’Neil said. “That’s obviously the best thing he’s done, and I’m happy for him. I’m happy he got double-digit sacks.”
Hoyer, Thomas Honored: OL Joe Thomas and QB Brian Hoyer each have earned awards from the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) for the 2014 season. Thomas was a unanimous selection for the PFWA Player of the Year and Hoyer was named the PFWA Dino Lucarelli ‘Good Guy Award’ winner. The pair will be honored at the 35th annual Akron Browns Backers banquet in May at the Tangier Restaurant.
“From an NFL player standpoint and beyond, he’s the total package,” Pettine said. “You know you have a special player when one of your best players is one of your best examples, as well.
“It’s not surprise to me that (the media) saw that, as well.”
Thomas has started all 126 career games at tackle and has not missed an offensive snap since being selected by the Browns with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft. His stretch of 7,810 consecutive offensive snaps is the longest active streak in the league. Thomas has been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven NFL seasons and trails only Hall of Famers Jim Brown (nine) and Lou Groza (nine) for the most among Browns players. After scoring four rushing touchdowns in 2013, Thomas helped open holes for the Browns to score 16 this year, tied for the third-most in the NFL this season and the most by the club since 1987. Thomas is the first offensive lineman to earn the award since its inception in 2001.
The ‘Good Guy Award’ is given annually to a player for his cooperation with the media and for the way the player carries himself in the community and with his teammates. Hoyer was one of nine players and one coach (Head Coach Mike Pettine) nominated by the local media for the award. Hoyer started the first 13 games of the season and led the Browns to a 7–6 record, the club’s best start to a season since 2007. Hoyer engineered four fourth-quarter game-winning drives and threw for 3,192 yards, the 11th highest total in Browns history.
Hartley Ready: K Garrett Hartley hopes he gets on to the field this week. The Browns newest kicker didn’t even get a chance to play in his first game because the Browns were shut out and punter Spencer Lanning handled the kickoff duties.
“I just feel blessed to have another opportunity,” Hartley said. “I plan on making the most of it.”
Pettine said despite Cundiff’s troubles, the reason the move was made because Cundiff was unable to kick against the Bengals.
“Well, this week we don’t feel that bad,” Pettine said. “(Hartley’s) played in (the Panthers) stadium more than any of our guys have with his history in New Orleans. There was nothing below the surface will Billy. He was injured in practice and unable to kick.
“That’s plain and simple,” Pettine said. “He went down to the stadium to do some work, and was actually having a great day kicking and injured his knee. It stiffened up on him the next day, and we didn’t feel, he didn’t feel that he would be able to kick. That’s a position where you obviously have to…that’s not one that can be a game-time decision. It was a situation where we needed to make a move and we did.”
Hartley didn’t even get in his first game with the Browns because the Browns were shut out and P Spencer Lanning kicked off to start the game. Pettine said that he wasn’t sure if Lanning or Hartley would handle the kickoff duties.
“Spencer has done it before, and he did a good job of it in the game,” Pettine said. “Unfortunately, we only got the one opportunity to kick off, but I think he put it maybe five deep and decent hang-time. We’ll see. That might be based on who feels better in warm-ups because I think they’re probably very similar with depth and hang-time.”
Hartley, 28, hasn’t kicked in an NFL game since being released on Dec. 17, 2013 from the Saints. In his career, he is 82-of–101 in field goal attempts and 176-of–177 on PATs for a career total of 422 points.
Hartley admitted he was unsure when he would get a chance to kick in the NFL again.
“Obviously, some doubt creeps into your mind, but I knew I would get another shot at some point, so I had to be ready when it happened.”
Meanwhile, Hartley has been doing a lot of hunting and filming “Southern Chaos” as a co-host on the Sportsman channel.
“The way things happened with the Browns will obviously make for a neat storyline on the TV show,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to kick in the game and show what we can do, but I’m sure that will happen this week.
He said his agent called to give him the good news while he was deer hunting and had to finish the hunt before he talked with him.
“I got a nice buck, too, so it was a great day all around.”
Cundiff was just 22-of–29 on the season on field goal attempts for a percentage of .759, which is second to last in the AFC. He had missed at least one field goal in each of the past five games before being released.
Hawkins Missing: WR Andrew Hawkins was not on the field during open session due to illness. DB Joe Haden (shoulder), DB Tashaun Gipson (knee), LB Karlos Dansby (knee) and DB K’Waun Williams (hamstring) didn’t practice, while TE Gary Barnidge (ribs), DB Robert Nelson (hamstring) and LB Jabaal Sheard (foot) were limited.
WR Marlon Moore (knee) returned to practice, while Haden and Williams were on the stationary bikes.