Christian Kirksey is embracing the opportunity to play a bigger role on Cleveland's defense. But the Browns inside linebacker says he'll have to earn it first.
"I'm just trying to work my butt off because nothing's written in stone," Kirksey said Monday in a wide-ranging interview on Cleveland Browns Daily.
"So that's how I think about everything. You have to keep working — nothing's given to you."
Kirksey, who's entering his third season in Cleveland, primarily served as a platoon WILL inside linebacker with Craig Robertson since joining the club out of Iowa.
But following the departures of veteran Karlos Dansby and Robertson, Kirksey could very well start next season alongside Demario Davis, the team's newest addition at linebacker who's also vying for a similar job on the defense.
"For me, coming into my third year and being an experienced player with the Browns, it's a good feeling," Kirksey said. "It's kind of like one of those 'It's my turn, it's next man in.' So I'm really excited to see how I'll do, how this defense will do."
It's a prospect approached with cautious optimism. On one hand, of course, Kirksey said the notion of taking on an increased role is exciting. On the other, he added there's zero room for complacency under Horton, who returns to Cleveland after two seasons with the Titans.
"The way Ray is, he'll come in and tell everyone that nobody's spot is written in stone. Everybody has equal opportunity, all the positions are for grabs. Because that'll make the next guy next to you working harder," he said.
"Everybody might be saying, 'Oh yeah man, you're the next starter' this and that, I kind of block that out just so it won't dampen my work ethic. I just feel like everything's up for grabs so I'm going to keep playing hard, keep practicing hard and keep training hard."
Horton, speaking at a press conference in February, called Kirksey a "young, athletic player" with room to grow.
"He's going to be probably a starter for us. We'll continue to show them film of other players on other teams. 'This is what we want,'" he said. "One of the things that we are going to try to impart with our players is 'This is how champions do it.' This is how champions do it. There is a way on the field and off the field to do things."
Such a rame of mind might also include a relentless work ethic, something Kirksey said he's taken to heart.
"I've always approached workouts — going through the playbook or going into the games — as being a starter because injuries happen. I always told myself like I'm a starter, that's how I going to approach things," Kirksey said.
"But with Craig and Karlos gone, it's a fresh slate … you still have to prepare yourself like that. You have to prepare yourself like a starter. You have to prepare yourself as a starter each and every time and that's just how I do it. But it's definitely a good feeling that I'm more experienced and the way it's looking is everything's in front of me."