JOE KRUGER hoped for the best but braced for the worst when he decided to bypass his senior year at Utah and enter the NFL's April draft.
He hired a smart agent - ex-Eagles offensive lineman Joe Panos - with pretty good NFL connections. Those connections told Panos that, at best, the 6-6, 269-pound defensive end could go in the second round, at worst, the fourth.
"Joe said he usually has a pretty good feel for where his guys are going to go," Kruger said. "My brother [Paul, a linebacker for the Browns] told me he had talked to Cleveland's GM [Mike Lombardi], and he thought I was a second- or third-rounder. [Eagles GM] Howie [Roseman] here thought I was a fourth-rounder. Another GM said second or third.
"So I was hopeful. But stuff happens. I've just got to work hard."
Kruger didn't end up going in the second round or the third or the fourth. Didn't go in the fifth or sixth, either.
The Eagles finally took him in the seventh round with the 212th overall pick, the first of the club's three seventh-round selections that also included cornerback Jordan Poyer (No. 218) and defensive end David King (No. 239).
"The first day [Round 1], I knew I wasn't going to get taken," Kruger said. "But we watched it just to see because I had been at the combine with a lot of these guys and just wanted to see who went where.
"The second day [Rounds 2 and 3], we were at my parents' house, just chilling and watching and talking. I was a little bit disappointed I didn't go [in the second or third rounds].
"The third day, after I didn't go in the fourth round, I was wondering what was going on. After the sixth round, I just stopped watching. I said whatever happens happens.
"I was outside with my brothers when I got a call from Denver. They said they had a pick coming up [in the seventh round] and were thinking of taking me. Then I got a call from Chip Kelly and he asked me if I was ready to be an Eagle. I was really excited, really relieved.
"I have no regrets [about coming out early]. I knew coming out it could happen. That I could potentially drop to the lower rounds. And I did. I'm going to play with a chip on my shoulder, play hard and show people I can play."
Seventh-rounders generally are roster long shots whose best hope, at least initially, often is a spot on the practice squad.
But the Eagles are renovating a defense that finished tied for 29th in the league in points allowed last season. They have a new head coach (Kelly), a new defensive coordinator (Bill Davis), a new 3-4 hybrid scheme and quite a few job openings.
They don't have a lot of veteran defensive linemen on the roster with 3-4 experience, which was why they selected three college guys with 3-4 backgrounds - third-rounder Bennie Logan, Kruger and King - in the draft.
If Kruger and/or King play well in training camp and the preseason, the seventh round could turn out to be the land of opportunity.
Kruger was a five-technique end at Utah, which means he lined up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. When the Eagles drafted him, they weren't sure whether they were going to keep him at end or move him to outside linebacker. They ultimately decided on end.
His brother Paul, about 2 inches shorter and 6 pounds lighter, was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Ravens and was a pass-rushing linebacker for them. He had nine sacks for the Super Bowl champs last season, which he parlayed into a free-agent contract with the Browns.
Kruger will be a four-technique end in Davis' scheme, which means he'll line up on the inside shoulder of the tackle and have to deal with not only the tackle but also the guard.
"At Utah, I was the open end," Kruger said. "I'd be lined up on the tight end every once in a while when he came to my side. But if not, I was lined up outside. I wasn't in the middle at all. So there was just more freedom."
Four-technique ends who weigh 269 don't have a long life expectancy in the NFL, which is why Kruger has been strongly advised to put on weight. He was up to 274 when he took his training-camp physical Monday and said his goal weight is 290.
He may want to rent a room near a Golden Corral.
"It's not going to come in a month," he said. "It's going to take time. The heaviest I've ever been is 280 and I was fine. I held it well. And I still have a lot of room to put on weight.
"I'm just going to keep putting the weight on and get used to playing against big guys. I'm used to it from having played in a 3-4 at Utah. But playing the five [technique] is different from playing the four.
"Playing the four, you're in between the tackle and the guard and you have to worry about two guys. You have to rely on your feet. [Playing the five] at Utah, your hand is heavy in the dirt and you're getting off the ball really fast.
"Here, you're moving more side to side. You have to be really light on your hand. You've got to be able to move side to side quickly. And stay square."
Kruger is over the disappointment of his draft slide. He missed out on a considerably larger signing bonus, but what's done is done. He has moved on and is ready for the challenge at the next level. He has no regrets about his decision to bypass his senior year.
"I looked at everything," he said. "I was just trying to make a good decision for me. I thought I had played well enough last year to leave. I felt I was mentally and physically ready.
"I saw my shot. I wanted to take it. You only get one shot to get in this league and make a difference. I took it and I'm glad I did."
DN Members Only: James Casey using early practices to work out the kinks.
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