Christian Kirksey has been smack dab at the center of Cleveland's improved run defense.
This week's game against a Jacksonville offense that runs it better than any team in the NFL is right up the veteran linebacker's alley. He relishes the strength vs. strength matchup.
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Kirksey on Friday in between meetings as the team neared the end of its preparations for Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
CB.com: Jacksonville loves to run the ball and you guys have been one of the best at stopping it. Is this kind of a strength vs. strength matchup?
Kirksey: Yes. Whenever they have a good running game, we take pride in being a No. 1 run defense, a defense that forces you to throw the ball. It's definitely going to be one of those games where we're going to try to bring it to them.
CB.com: You've been here long enough to be a part of some defenses that really struggled to stop the run. What's been the biggest change?
Kirksey: Just the mentality. Obviously it's a different scheme. We've got the right players doing their job and going out there and giving it their all and knowing their assignment. We just changed the culture around here as far as being an aggressive defense and stopping the run. That's some of the things that really changed with our mindset. Gregg (Williams) is telling us we've got to force teams to throw the ball. That's something we want to do and something we've done so far.
CB.com: Williams said this week was "back to training camp" for the defense. What did he mean by that?
Kirksey: Just going back to some of our base fundamentals, some of our key assignments and make sure everyone knows exactly what they're doing to a T and simplify it as much as possible. When he says going back to a training camp mentality, it's just that grind and hustle, just getting back to playing Browns football and Browns defense. That's been the point of emphasis this week. Just make sure we don't allow their running game to become a spark.
CB.com: What's the biggest thing you guys miss without Jamie Collins Sr.?
Kirksey: His playmaking ability and his leadership. Jamie knows how to win, he knows where the ball is going. He's been doing this for a while and he's one of the better linebackers in the league. You just miss him and miss one of your playmakers, missing our brother who has been battling with us. He's a hell of a player, so we're definitely going to miss that.
CB.com: It seems like James Burgess Jr. has really acclimated himself well in Collins' spot, though.
Kirksey: Burgess is a good player. As you can see, every time Burgess gets in the game, he's out there making plays, whether it's tackles for loss or key run stops, couple of sacks. Every time he gets in the game, we ask him to do an assignment and he does it to the best of his ability. It's something we like.
CB.com: Jamie's the second captain this team has lost for the season. As a captain, does that put even more on your shoulders?
Kirksey: I don't think it's too much pressure on me. I'm just going to continue doing the same thing I'm doing, just trying to lead these men to a victory. With it being our second captain going out, the other captains just have to rally around and make sure we keep this team level-headed and hungry to go win a game. We're definitely in need of our two captains but the ball has to keep going. They're still here in the building and trying to coach us up as much as possible and be a good teammate for us. The other captains just have to step it up, but I don't sense any extra pressure on us. We just have to keep doing what we're doing and go out there and lead and win a game.
CB.com: At this time last year, the results started getting a little lopsided. Last week, you played one of your most competitive games of the season. Is there a difference between the direction this team is headed compared to this time last year?
Kirksey: I feel like this team is definitely headed in the right direction. The record doesn't show it but it's small things we're doing that we're getting better at. Obviously I want to win right now, so we've got to do that this week. We've got to make sure we have our things together to go out and perform our best to pull out the best Cleveland Browns that is possible. That's something we've worked on the whole week. Our record doesn't show it, but we've got guys running to the ball, trying to make plays, trying to make things happen. I'm eager to see how Sunday will play out. We're trying to get that win.
CB.com: You're not on the field at the same time as their defense, but do you think about trying to prove which group is better in a matchup like this?
Kirksey: I'm not saying we want to be just as good as they are. We want to be the best Browns we can be. They handle their business, we handle our business. The best team will win. It's going to be a dog fight. They're coming here and coming from Florida to Cleveland. It's going to be one of those things where I honestly believe the best defense will win. That's something I take pride in being in one of those games where the defense has to step up and I think that's what this game is going to be.
CB.com: What changes for you when it's snowing and cold?
Kirksey: Nothing changes. You've got the same mentality. You've got to take pride in playing in the cold. We're an AFC North team and we have to take advantage of the cold. They're used to playing in the heat, so I think that's to our advantage. I've been in the cold all my life, born and raised in St. Louis, then I went to Iowa and now I'm in Cleveland. I like the cold. To me, it should give us an advantage, especially from a defensive standpoint.