BEREA, Ohio -- Whether it was keeping a quarterback healthy, finding consistent productivity on offense or getting the defense off the field on critical third-down plays, the Cleveland Browns had plenty of struggles throughout the 2016 season.
And all those struggles added up to a 1-15 record, but as the team readies itself for the 2017 season, there is plenty of optimism within the Browns’ organization, and specifically, in the locker room, where players are hungry to create a new environment of success.
“All the guys are rejuvenated, everybody's ready, everybody came back in shape, which is a good thing, coming back, doing the conditioning test, everybody pretty much killed the conditioning test, so it feels good to be back, back in this football atmosphere, working to get these wins,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said.
Wanting to repay the faith and belief the Browns had when they selected him with a third-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of the University of Iowa, Kirksey signed a contract extension during the offseason program that will keep him with the organization for four years after his rookie deal expires following the 2017 season.
“Man, it feels good to have our guys out here running around getting ready to make plays, building the team chemistry,” Kirksey said. "Everybody's in, everybody's focused. Everybody's focused in the classroom, so it feels good to have everybody on board working for one goal."
On the way to a 1-15 record last season, the Browns ranked near the bottom of the NFL in several statistical categories, most notably points, yards and rushing yards allowed.
On the field for the fourth-most plays in the NFL, 1,067, the Browns allowed 392.4 yards and 22.8 first downs per game, and surrendered third-down conversions on 45.1 percent of their opponents’ attempts in 2016.
“The past is the past,” Kirksey said. “We have a new season ahead of us, a new opportunity. All we can work on is now and what’s in front of us. Last year has been washed out of our minds. We’re just trying to focus on the new players we have, some of the new coaches, some of the new schemes and just control everything in front of us.”
During the offseason, the Browns committed to rebuilding their defense, and replaced former coordinator Ray Horton with Super Bowl-winning assistant Gregg Williams.
And they gave Williams plenty of new players to work with, most notably defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers, both of whom were selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
“This is the National Football League,” Kirksey said. “Age is not a factor. You can play the best guys available, the best guys that have mastered their position.
“Even though they’re young -- I played as a rookie -- age is not a factor. Those guys are ready to be out there playing with us. I’m excited to see what our young guys can do, especially when they put on the pads here in camp and just get ready to go out there and have fun and win games.”
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