The necessities in Browns head coach Mike Pettine's defensive scheme are speed, quickness and versatility. With Pettine, aggression and physicality are a given and on a consistent basis, Kirksey's play jumped off the film when evaluated by the Browns.
It was easy to see that Kirksey plays fast and hard. The Browns happened to have a void of fast linebackers with the ability not only to rush the quarterback, but cover tight end down the seam or a running back coming out of the backfield.
Pettine had ideas as to how he could utilize Kirksey's natural athleticism and solid mental approach to the game. A season ago in Buffalo, Pettine unleashed linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had an exceptional season.
Where Kirksey may not be as physical as Alonso at this point, Kirksey is as athletic and in most cases had better sideline-to-sideline speed and quickness than Alonso, according to those with close knowledge of both players.
Speed and quickness is one thing, making plays is another and this is the facet that Kirksey will be expected to develop in the weeks to come as training camp approaches.
Projecting Kirksey to Alonso's success in Buffalo a season ago is not a wise expectation, nor one which the Browns will make. But the Alonso factor helped lead Kirksey to Cleveland and Pettine has high expectations for the rookie.
While Kirksey hasn't been overmatched physically, the Browns fully expect Kirksey to improve his overall core strength.
Film sessions, which are a major part of the rookie and OTA sessions for a young player, is proving to be beneficial to Kirksey. The rookie is showing an improved understanding of his responsibilities, but the most significant improvement may be in Kirksey's ability to get off blocks easier/quicker than in initial sessions.
Interestingly, in rookie camp sessions and OTA activities, Kirksey has taken reps inside next to free agent acquisition Karlos Dansby, as well as a pass rushing outside linebacker on the weak-side of the defensive scheme.
In camp sessions, Kirksey's reps were in unison with those of 2013 Browns' first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo and veteran Jabaal Sheard. At times two of the three linebackers were on the field together, dependent on the package group.
In training camp, the Browns will continue to feed Kirksey reps inside and out because of Pettine's defensive scheme, which is not the conventional 4-3 and 3-4 base looks generally displayed around the league.
The Browns have been intrigued with the promise Kirksey has displayed inside, which has been an area of great concern to the Browns coaching staff. A season ago the Browns were victimized at the position at a high rate.
Early practice sessions are proving that Kirksey is a quick study and instinctive. Kirksey is excelling in situational defensive package groups not only as an inside backer, but has shown the ability on a consistent basis to apply pressure coming off the edge.
Whereas a season ago Mingo would often find himself out of place and over-running plays, Kirksey is displaying much more understanding of the scheme responsibilities, which hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
It's early. The dog days of summer in pads and hitting will be the truest indicator of the Kirksey's immediate skill-set and role within the Browns defense.
Right now, the rookie looks the part.