BEREA, Ohio (AP) — When veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby looks at rookie Christian Kirksey, it’s like staring in the mirror.
And what’s looking back at him has potential — a lot of it.
“He reminds me of me,” Dansby said of the former Iowa Hawkeye standout. “He has potential to be one of the best to ever do it if he applies himself.”
Kirksey is impressing everyone so far in his first NFL training camp, and he’s doing it by leaning on the veterans around him, like Craig Robertson — whom he is battling for playing time at the weakside position — and Dansby.
The 6-2, 235-pound rookie’s attitude and work ethic hasn’t been lost on Dansby, who is entering his 11th year in the league. And to help Kirksey along, Dansby has been trying to lead by example.
“I try to show him more than I can tell him,” Dansby said. “I just try to go out and show him, to work hard every day, getting to the ball, just some of the fundamental things that he’s going to need to be great.”
Kirksey’s presence at camp hasn’t been lost on Browns coach Mike Pettine, either. Pleased with the young linebacker’s performance so far — he had three tackles in the Browns’ preseason opener — Pettine said earlier in the week that Kirksey would get more time with the first-team defense in practice.
“It makes me feel good that I’m showing improvement and I’m showing my talents, what I’m capable of doing,” Kirksey said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
And there he was on Wednesday, standing alongside Dansby on a number of plays, before breaking into coverage against both tight ends and even a couple of receivers in team drills.
Kirksey is being praised for his pass coverage and ability to play both the inside and outside linebacker positions, a type of versatility the Browns are already counting on.
“Just having that type of experience in college, it definitely helps to translate over to the NFL,” Kirksey said. “I’m kind of in a comfortable role now when it comes to sticking tight ends and sticking running backs.”
He has also been working to improve his run defense.
“I knew once I get to this level, you can’t just be a one-sided player. You got to learn to play both sides and that’s covering and stopping the run,” Kirksey said.
Though overshadowed by the likes of Johnny Manziel, Kirksey is one of a handful of rookies who could be major contributors early in the season. But exceeding expectations early is nothing new for Kirksey. After all, he was a two-time captain at Iowa, starting in his junior year.
“I was honored to be a team captain for two years. It just shows the type of demeanor you have and what your teammates think of you,” Kirksey said. “I always want to just make sure I carry myself well off the field and on the field. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel comfortable around your teammates just because they think highly of you.”
And should he continue on the path he’s been on so far, Kirksey’s new teammates in Cleveland will continue to think that highly of him.
“I just came here with one goal in mind and that’s just to play physical. Just go out there and play hard,” he said.’
NOTES: CB Joe Haden was given a scheduled day off. . WR Josh Gordon was still out with an abdominal injury Wednesday. . The battle for the orange jerseys continued with Brian Hoyer and the offense trying to score from the 15-yard line to end practice. The defense held, holding on to the jerseys for another day. . As far as how long he expects the starters to go Monday night against Washington, Pettine said it would be “in the neighborhood of a half.”