BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey was one of the few defensive bright spots in Saturday night's 33-14 preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Kirksey finished the night with a game-high seven tackles, intercepted St. Louis quarterback Austin Davis and returned it 23 yards to the Rams' 14-yard line in the third quarter of play. Four plays later, Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel ran the ball into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown.
"I'm just following the older guys and I'm just being confident in them," Kirksey said after Monday's practice. "I'm being confident in my coaches, just being confident in the scheme of the defense. When you think positive, you move in the right direction.
"It feels good whenever you make a big play, especially that changed the momentum of the game. I know my teammates, Karlos (Dansby) and Craig (Robertson), were kind of done for the day, and Craig was just telling me to go out there and have fun and try to make a play. Once I made that play, it was just good to celebrate with my teammates. I'm just looking forward to making plays down the road."
After watching tape of Saturday's loss, Browns coach Mike Pettine said the Browns were "very pleased with where Chris is" at in his first NFL season.
"Not to take anything away from Craig (Robertson), but I think they both played well enough to merit being starters in our different groupings," Pettine said. "I think that always ends up being a plus for you on special teams as well because they're sharing jobs on defense and can play a lot."
Through three preseason games, Kirksey, a third-round pick out of the University of Iowa in the 2014 NFL Draft, leads the Browns with 18 total tackles, and his performance on the field has drawn rave reviews from his veteran teammates, fellow linebacker Karlos Dansby in particular.
"He's a great player," Dansby said. "He's learning. It's his first year, so he's having fun out there. That's a good sign.
"He's a talented guy, reminds me of myself. He's talented. He's got some (of) God's gifts. You can't coach that. He just goes out and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. That goes to his coaching in college, they did a great job with him."
It is hearing praise from a veteran like Dansby and remembering the lessons taught to him during his career at Iowa that have helped motivate Kirksey through his first professional training camp and preseason.
"He's been in the league for 11 years, so when you get a guy like that to say something good, it's always an honor," Kirksey said of Dansby. "I learn from him every day. I'm always picking at his brain, so just to hear him say that is really encouraging. It just makes me want to strive to get better.
"Coach (Kirk) Ferentz down in Iowa, he's been around the league and he just pretty much tries to have his style of coaching similar to the NFL. He told us in college, 'As long as you just trust the system, trust the program, wherever you go, you'll be fine.' He just always told us, 'Have a clear mind and accept coaching,' so that's just something I do."