Sept. 8, 2014
- Hawkeye Football Game Day
- 2014 Fall Camp Central
- Read the September issue of Hawk Talk Monthly
- Download your Hawk Talk Monthly iOS app
- Download your Hawk Talk Monthly android app
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye iPhone/iPad app
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye android app
- Big Ten Network: Free Hawkeye Video
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There are 13 rookies on the Cleveland Browns’ active roster, but according to local media, University of Iowa graduate Chris Kirksey shined brightest during training camp.
Kirksey played linebacker for the Hawkeyes from 2010-13, compiling 315 tackles, seven fumble recoveries, and four interceptions. He was named team captain and honorable mention All-Big Ten last fall. The Browns selected Kirksey in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft (71st overall), and he has been turning heads in Ohio since.
On Aug. 26, Kirksey received the Maurice Bassett Award, which is voted on by members of the Cleveland media as the most outstanding rookie in Browns training camp. Bassett played for the Browns from 1954-56 and the award began in 1985.
“To win it wherever you’re at is good,” Kirksey said. “We have a lot of good rookies, a lot of good players. Just to stand out among those guys shows I’m working hard and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Another notable rookie for Cleveland is former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, winner of the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
Kirksey returned to Iowa City on Sept. 5, attending the Hawkeyes’ walk-through in the Indoor Football Practice Facility. He was on the sideline in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday during Iowa’s 31-23 season-opening victory against Northern Iowa.
Kirksey had other obligations yesterday — he was in Pittsburgh, making his professional debut against the Steelers. Kirksey recorded a sack, but the Browns were on the losing end of a 30-27 score.
“I want to be an asset and a major factor to the team. Whenever they need me to make a play, that’s what I’m going to do,” Kirksey said. “Something I want to happen my rookie year is to make a couple plays and get my name out there and help the team go to the Super Bowl.”“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz runs a great program — the style of camp at Iowa is similar to the NFL. The early mornings, long nights, meetings, and physical practices are just like the NFL. The last four years shaped me and helped me from a mental and physical standpoint to get ready for the NFL. This Iowa program prepared me.”Christian Kirksey
In 2013, the Browns finished 4-12 and were looking up in the AFC North standings at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. They finished 1-3 in preseason, ending with a 33-13 win against Chicago on Aug. 28. Kirksey had two tackles against the Bears and finished the exhibition season with 20 tackles, two pass breakups, and a 23-yard interception against the Rams. Kirksey is a native of St. Louis.
“It was crazy just to have a ball back in my hands again,” Kirksey said. “It felt good making the good play, reading the ball, and trying to make a play for the team. I’m starting to become more comfortable in the game. Now it is another phase going into the regular season, so I have to transition.”
Kirksey is one of three Hawkeyes to finish their careers with three defensive touchdowns.
Listed as second team left inside linebacker behind third-year player Craig Robertson of North Texas, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Kirksey will see most of his early playing time on special teams.
“My senior year (at Iowa) I didn’t play as much special teams, but now I’m on all four phases and I have to get my mind right for that,” Kirksey said. “They have me in the sub packages so I’m doing a lot of stuff with that.”
Kirksey has relied on 11-year veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby of Auburn as he acclimates to life as a professional.
“I’m fortunate enough to play with Karlos Dansby, he has given me a lot of knowledge,” Kirksey said. “The coaching staff is great — Mike Pettine is a great head coach — I’m starting to feel at home.”
Jim O’Neil is defensive coordinator for the Browns, Chuck Driesbach is linebackers coach, and Brian Fleury is assistant linebackers coach. Chris Tabor coordinates special teams.
Kirksey is OK with taking baby steps during his first season. He is working on slowing the game, reading tendencies, and recognizing plays.
“You can always get better with that. I’m a rookie so it will come to me,” Kirksey said. “I’m not rushing anything, but I’m trying to get better and learning from other guys that are there.”
After playing at Iowa, Kirksey had a jump on most rookies when camp began. While others attempted to adapt to a new format, it was old hat for the former Hawkeye.
“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz runs a great program — the style of camp at Iowa is similar to the NFL,” Kirksey said. “The early mornings, long nights, meetings, and physical practices are just like the NFL. The last four years shaped me and helped me from a mental and physical standpoint to get ready for the NFL. This Iowa program prepared me.”
Although no longer in the same locker room, Kirksey stays in touch with fellow Hawkeye starting linebackers Anthony Hitchens and James Morris. Hitchens is No. 2 on the depth chart at weakside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys; Morris is on injured reserve for the New England Patriots.
“I talk to Hitch and James all the time. We check up on each other to see how everyone is doing and making sure we are staying focused; it’s the NFL, it’s easy to get distracted,” Kirksey said. “We’re still friends, so we catch up and have great talks about life, it doesn’t have to be about football.”