At first, Christian Kirksey didn’t know why he’d been called into the Haslams’ office.
Had he done something wrong? Was a change coming?
“I felt like I was in the principal’s office,” Kirksey said.
Turns out the principal had an award waiting for Kirksey. The Browns announced Kirksey on Thursday as their team’s winner/nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which honors players for outstanding work in their community.
Most recently, Kirksey visited Clark Elementary School to reward third-grade students for their attendance habits. Injury prevented him from achieving his individual on-field goals this season, but he’s honored to be recognized for his character.
“I try to do as much as I can and try to be a positive role model, influence a lot of people,” Kirksey said. “I am just happy that the Cleveland Browns organization nominated me. How I am viewed by my peers, it definitely humbles me. I just going to continue to do work.”
—Myles Garrett is proving he can get to the quarterback, but coach Gregg Williams’ concern is what Garrett can get from the quarterback.
Williams said the next step in Garrett’s development is forcing the game-changing turnover. And this Sunday, the Browns will face one of the best ever in that department.
Panthers veteran defensive end Julius Peppers ranks only behind Robert Mathis on the all-time forced fumbles list. And while a large reason for his 52 career forced fumbles is his skillset and instinctual feel, perhaps the biggest is his longevity.
This season marks Peppers’ 18th in the league. That fact alone is cause for Williams to pay respects to Peppers.
“(Playing along the defensive line) is a fist fight in a phone booth for three hours,” Williams said. “For Peppers to be able to play that long — it is remarkable.
Peppers wouldn’t still be playing if he couldn’t provide value. His technique is something the Browns have cut film on for Garrett to watch. The Browns encourage Garrett to experiment with moves he sees from other pass rushers.
As for the game-changing plays, the Browns know Garrett will make them. It’s just a matter of when.
“I think it is instantaneous when it could happen,” Williams said. “Some of the great plays (Garrett) has had in the pocket already have just been fractions of an inch of where he is attempting and making the attempt at the ball.”
—Baker Mayfield is eager to put his poor Week 13 performance behind him.
Mayfield can't get too antsy, though. Luke Kuechly and the Panthers defense presents its own unique challenges. Mayfield described two of his three interceptions against the Texans as near misses. A slight tune-up changes the outcome of those plays completely.
This week, he’ll again be forced to execute pristinely. As offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens put it, “If Baker forgets to make call, Kuechly will be able to make it for him.”
That statement, along with the film Mayfield has watched on Kuechly, lines up with everything his teammates and coaches have told him. Kuechly’s among the best in the game; he combines athleticism, instincts and intelligence like few players do.
The Panthers will enter Sunday’s matchup having lost four straight games. But that’s not how the Browns are treating them.
“They have not won as many games as they would have liked to, but defensively they have been playing well,” Mayfield said. “For us, it’s looking at it like we are playing a great defense because we are.”
—DT Larry Ogunjobi practiced for the first time this week on Thursday, as did DB Phillip Gaines and C JC Tretter, though all were limited.
DB Denzel Ward (concussion protocol), RB Duke Johnson (not injury related) and OL Austin Corbett (foot) did not practice.