The Cleveland Browns are in their Organized Team Activities now, a ramp up to official Training Camp. As we learned with the Sean Lee injury and the Justin Gilbert scare, anything can happen and the most important thing during OTAs is health. The Browns players are learning a new system under Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan on both sides of the ball. Shanahan’s systems in Washington and Houston have been both creative and flexible. This is also true for Pettine’s defensive system in New York and Buffalo. Because of that OTAs are almost more important from a mental perspective then a physical one.
Over the next few weeks we will hit on all of the Browns rookies, starting by going backwards with the players who were drafted then hitting on a few of the undrafted free agents the team has signed. We will look at their fit in the system, physical and mental maturity, competition for playing time and prediction of impact this season. We started first with 4th round pick Pierre Desir, cornerback out of Lindenwood, click here for that write up. Then we hit on Terrance West, 3rd round running back out of Towson, click here for that write up. Today we hit on the first “big school” guy in Chris Kirksey, 3rd round inside linebacker out of Iowa. Don’t miss Draft Browns write up on Kirksey that came out yesterday, they do a tremendous job.
Kirksey is moving from the OLB role in the 4-3 defense at Iowa to a variable role, mostly inside linebacker, in Mike Pettine’s hybrid 3-4 defense. Kirksey can move in space and has a great deal of range to cover receivers in the slot, tight ends and running backs. With the Browns, in their standard 3-4 front he will be placed next to big hitter Karlos Dansby. Dansby is a run stopping, big hitting inside linebacker. Kirksey is smaller and would be washed out on many plays if forced to take on Dansby’s role. Instead Kirksey fits the system need, a linebacker who can cover sideline to sideline and can clean up plays. He also has rush experience that could come in handy on stunts and delayed blitzes from the middle of the formation.
Kirksey was a senior at Iowa and a 2 time captain for Kirk Ferentz. For Ferentz, who actually coached with the Browns a long long time ago, that type of respect isn’t given out easily. Kirksey started all games his last 3 seasons and has no off the field issues. Kirksey could see time starting out on special teams and isn’t the type of player to complain about that role. He is hard nosed, football first kind of player that will fit well with Pettine.
Kirksey is in a unique situation in that he has very little competition in the base 3-4 defense. Craig Robertson struggled last year but will compete for a spot this year. It is possible that Pettine gets creative and looks to move Paul Kruger or Quentin Groves inside to get 3 of his best pass rushers on the field more often. The reason his situation is unique is that Pettine doesn’t play in his base formation often. Whether it is in nickel, putting 4 or 5 on the line or UFO defenses Pettine is creative in getting his best players on the field. Kirksey should be able to get time as a coverage backer in nickel but will have to earn his time as he isn’t just competing with other ILBs but other defenders as a whole.
Kirksey should have a big impact on the Browns this year. On special teams coverage expect him to make numerous tackles. On defense expect Kirksey’s maturity and system fit to win over coaches as the year goes on. Kirksey could be this year’s Kiko Alonso, the inside linebacker that dominated his rookie year for Pettine. Kirksey has the football IQ and instincts to overcome any physical limitations he may have. The other huge impact is that he would keep Robertson off the field, a big deal if you watched the Browns last year. Overall Impact - Medium to Medium-High
If you are interested in watching film on players Draft Break Down does a great job of putting together pieces. For Kirksey they have a number of videos, which you can click here to see. Also below is one video of a game against Michigan in 2013:
What are your expectations for Kirksey this year?