BEREA, Ohio -- Despite the struggles of a 1-15 team, veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey had a banner year in 2016, and for that, he was rewarded with a contract extension. But he is even more motivated to improve, and the Cleveland Browns have fellow linebacker Jamie Collins to thank for that.
By signing a new contract with the Browns well ahead of the start of the new league year, Collins stated his intentions to be a part of the solution in Cleveland, and that has pushed Kirksey to work even harder throughout the offseason program, and now, in two-plus weeks of training camp.
“Playing alongside of a good player, you always want to match it or surpass it, and as long as we're working together and trying to get each other better, that's going to keep elevating our game, and that's just something that me and him are both challenging each other to do,” Kirksey said of Collins.
Ranked near the bottom of the National Football League in several statistical categories, the Browns sought out and added talent to bolster their defense at the trade deadline in November.
And bolster their roster they did by trading a draft pick to the Patriots in exchange for Collins, a veteran defender that has proven versatile enough to contribute on his side of the ball as well as special teams.
Over his career in New England, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Collins totaled 285 tackles, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, four recoveries, one defensive touchdown and a blocked extra point.
Since joining the Browns, Collins has registered 69 total tackles, including 48 solo stops and 21 assists, two sacks and one forced fumble over his eight starts.
“The impact plays are the plays that count, are the plays that matter,” Kirksey said. “Being a linebacker, you have a chance to be an impact player in the run, and also, an impact player in the pass as well, so as much as possible, whenever I'm out on the field I'm trying to go make a play on the ball, I'm trying to get a TFL or get an interception or a forced fumble, so those are the areas that I want to improve in my game.”
Although Collins had a successful shortened season with the Browns following a trade from the New England Patriots, Kirksey believes there are even more good things in Collins’ future in Cleveland.
“Jamie, man, he’s really getting comfortable with his teammates,” Kirksey said. “Last year, he came in fairly late. He didn’t really know anybody like that, so now, just getting a year under his belt of just being around guys and being around the coaches, he’s getting very, very comfortable.
“Jamie’s got a great personality. He’s a great leader on the defense, goes out there, makes plays and is always trying to make a play on the ball, so I see a lot of good things for him. As you can see in practice, he’s got a nose for the ball. When he was with the Patriots, he was making plays, so now, we believe he’s going to make plays here. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”