Browns defense bubbling with optimism: 'We definitely can get it turned around'

Christian Kirksey is confident the Browns defense is heading into the right direction and the fourth-year linebacker says you can see proof of that as they enter their second week of OTAs.

"There's no doubt in my mind that, with the help of these draft picks we got, we definitely can get it turned around," said Kirksey, who signed a four-year contract extension after Tuesday's OTA. "The guys have been working hard this whole spring, you can just see how attentive guys are in the classroom, how hard we're working on the field."

If last Wednesday's practice — which was open to the news media for observation — is any indication, the Browns are, at the very least, a reinvigorated bunch after finishing 31st of 32 teams in total defense last season.

There are several factors at play here. Kirksey, who emerged as a leader both on and off the field in 2016, is part of a youth-laden unit that recently welcomed two first-round NFL Draft picks in defensive end Myles Garrett (the No. 1 overall pick) and safety Jabrill Peppers (No. 25).

"I think the Draft shows that we have put more quality talent on our team, I think it showed last year that our guys understand our process and worked hard, we just couldn't seem to win," Jackson said.

"Now, hopefully we have enough talent to finish games and finish games better and finishing hopefully leads to winning. Hopefully, at the end of the day, all this is about winning and it's not about anything else."

Garrett joins a defensive line that saw Danny Shelton, the 2015 first-round pick, solidify himself as an interior force and Emmanuel Ogbah, the No. 32 overall pick last year, come into his own by December.

At linebacker, Kirksey — who said he'll move to the outside — is part of a corps that includes Jamie Collins, the 2015 Pro Bowler who re-signed with the Browns instead of testing free agency, and veteran Demario Davis, whose 99 tackles were only second to Kirksey's 148 stops last year.

Peppers, the former do-it-all star at Michigan, is expected to play strong safety in a secondary that struggled last season. And in addition to cornerbacks Joe Haden, a two-time Pro Bowler, and Jamar Taylor, the Browns picked up veteran defensive back Jason McCourty two weeks ago to play whatever role they need him to.

Last but certainly not least is the addition of new defensive coordinator Gregg WIlliams, whom Jackson tapped back in January. Players say that Williams, the fiery 27-year veteran who's assembled five top-five defenses, has already left his mark thus far.

"When we got Gregg in, that was a big thing for our defense," Haden said. "Just with us having a young defense like that, we need somebody that can be able to keep people accountable, keep everybody accountable."

"At the end of the day," he added, "I feel confident and we're moving in the right direction."

Between the right pieces in place and the right person helping mold them, there's a confidence the Browns defense is in good hands next season and for years to come.

"I feel good about this group of men," Kirksey said. "We can turn this defense around."

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