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The career of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Sergio Kindle has certainly been a bumpy road thus far, but with the University of Texas graduate heading into his third season in the NFL, it is make or break time for the 24-year old.
The versatile outside linebacker, who also has experience playing both inside linebacker and defensive end, looked like a real first round prospect in the run up to the 2010 NFL Draft. Standout performances during his years in Texas saw him named a First Team All-American in 2009 and culminated in a eye-catching performance in the 2010 BCS National Championship game against Alabama, dramatically raising his draft stock.
His ability on the field was never in question, but a number of non-playing issues swirled around Kindle and were enough reason for many of his potential suitors to pass on him. These issues involved persistent knee injuries as well as off-field controversies including a charge for driving while intoxicated following his inaugural season in Texas. Ultimately these problems caused Kindle to drop to the second round where the Ravens picked him up with the 43rdÂ overall pick, clearly impressed by his game footage and impressive showing at the Combine.
The Ravens, known for their shrewd drafting policy, clearly believed that the experienced heads of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs on defense would be enough to help Kindle mature both on and off the field. This, however, was not to be, as Kindle suffered head trauma following a fall down two flights of stairs and spent the rest of the season on the injured reserve list.
Although Kindle fractured his skull in the fall, a severe loss of hearing in his left ear has hampered his professional career even more significantly. The damage to his hearing prevented him from making any meaningful contribution to the Ravens in his second season as he looked to adjust to his injury, an unenviable task given the frequency of pre-snap audibles used in the NFL.
Whilst Kindle was given little opportunity to shine last season with Paul Kruger deputising for both Suggs and Jarret Johnson at the outside linebacker position, the departure of Johnson to San Diego likely means Kruger will become a starter and leave Kindle as the first choice replacement at the position. If this scenario does play out, Kindle would be more than happy to emulate Krugerâ€™s performances a year previously, with the Utah graduate highlighting himself as a very effective pass rusher in the limited opportunities he enjoyed.
If given an opportunity to shine this season, which Head Coach John Harbaugh will undoubtedly be keen to give him, the pass rushing threats of Suggs, Kruger and Haloti Ngata will almost certainly help create space for Kindle to do damage and establish himself as a player who can excel in the NFL. He has the chance to learn from some of the best defensive players currently playing in the NFL and Baltimore seems to be the perfect fit to get Kindle back to the kind of form he showed in college prior to his accident.
The fact remains however that the challenge ahead of Kindle is great. He will have to work harder than anyone else on the team just to be able to keep up with his defensive colleagues and will have to spend Ray Lewis-esque time studying game tape of upcoming opponents.
If he can overcome these obstacles though, the Ravens renowned defense will have added another weapon to their already formidable arsenal. The NFL would be wise not to sleep on Kindle who, if he reaches his potential, will be a fierce prospect indeed. Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, Colt McCoy, you have been warned.