Pardon Christian Kirksey for being just a little more excited for the first preseason game than most of his veteran counterparts around the league.
An iron man for the Browns through the first part of his career, Kirksey dealt with multiple injuries in 2018, the second of which ended his season at Week 9. He watched from the sidelines as Cleveland righted the ship to finish with its best record in years.
Now, he’s ready to be at the center of it all in a season with high expectations.
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Kirksey leading up to Thursday’s preseason opener against the Redskins.
CB.com: How have you liked the physical camp Freddie Kitchens has been running?
Kirksey: Freddie Kitchens is trying to build that mentality for us, build this 53-man roster and have the best 53 men on the team. He’s trying to make it as hard as possible. Once you get through this, you’re geared up for the season. It’s been a lot of fun. Guys are out there competing.
CB.com: From a linebacker’s perspective, what do you like about it and what can be tough to deal with?
Kirksey: You’re sharpening your tools. You’re seeing a lot of things in camp and stressing yourself in camp to make the games a little more easier. When you’re a linebacker and getting full contact, your body is getting used to it and adjusted to it. That’s the good thing about having a physical camp. Your body is going to get shaped up to what you can expect in the season.
Check out the best photos from the first half of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
CB.com: You’ve been here longer than most on the roster. What’s it like to have this genuine excitement going into a season?
Kirksey: It feels good. Just coming off what I’ve seen here and the experience I’ve had here, you’re just seeing the brighter side of things. Being here and dedicated to Cleveland and this organization and finally seeing your hard work and everything you went through come to life, and you see the direction it’s going, it’s very exciting.
CB.com: You were an iron man for years but dealt with a handful of injuries last year. What’s it been like to be back and healthy?
Kirksey: It feels good. I have a little chip on my shoulder just for being hurt last year and not being able to go out there with my teammates for the majority of the season. You learn from it, and it’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to take everything into consideration as far as not taking things for granted and being the best version of yourself that you can be and outworking yourself and push yourself to higher heights and to the next level. That’s my main focus now is to be the best teammate I can be, be the best leader I can be and the best player.
CB.com: Did you do anything differently in the offseason to get ready after the injury?
Kirksey: I just nurtured my injuries, stayed in the weight room. Got a lot stronger and a lot faster and made sure my body is in the utmost, max capacity of what the workload is to be ready for the season.
CB.com: You’ve been through a lot of different defensive installations. What’s made Steve Wilks’ unique?
Kirksey: Everything is in front of you. You don’t feel like you’re chasing anything. You’re playing downhill. Everybody is gap responsible and keeping things in front of you. I think that’s good when the defense knows they can play fast. That’s something that’s good with Steve Wilks’ defense.
CB.com: What do you like about the 4-2-5?
Kirksey: You get a lot of speed guys on the field and you get a lot of guys that can cover. Then you let the D-line go rush. With two linebackers on the field, you’ve got two athletic guys that can run around, guys that can tackle. The league is turning into a passing league. I think it’s a good fit for us but we’ll have a lot of different styles of defenses we can run. Everything is working the way it’s supposed to and we’re having a good time with it.
CB.com: What have you liked about the young guys in your room?
Kirksey: They’re playing physical, they’re playing hard. Mack (Wilson) is playing very well. (Sione) Takitaki is playing very well. They’re stepping in and not playing scared and not playing timid. They’re very confident in what they’re doing. That’s something on the bright side when you see young rookies.
CB.com: I know they’re a bit banged up right now, but what do you think of the starting defensive line and all of its talent?
Kirksey: You’ve got a smart defensive line that knows and understands the game. You can go out there and make plays and keep offensive linemen off you. It obviously makes your job a little easier at linebacker when you have a stout defensive line like that. They’re working and trying to build that chemistry and seeing what they can and can’t do. For me playing behind them, just watching them make plays, it’s exciting to see.
CB.com: Has it given the group confidence to see how much success you’ve had against an offense that’s supposed to be pretty good this year?
Kirksey: For sure. We’re out here just competing. The guys are understanding it’s going to be physical and hard in this camp. It’s going to make it a lot easier in the game.
CB.com: How are these preseason games different for you now than when you were a rookie?
Kirksey: You’re more comfortable. You know what to expect. It becomes routine after a while. You just have to go through this process and sharpen your tools and make sure you’re ready for a big season. The preseason is to see what you have and just to learn and kind of fine-tune your details before you get into the season.
CB.com: You got a taste of it at the Orange and Brown Scrimmage, but what are you expecting from an atmosphere standpoint all season?
Kirksey: It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun. The fans are definitely into it and they’re ready to see us win and they’re ready to see us get going. I know the city is 100 percent behind us and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
CB.com: What do you consider a successful first preseason game?
Kirksey: A “W.”A “W.”
CB.com: Even in the preseason?
Kirksey: Even in the preseason. Win every game.