GREEN BAY – Christian Kirksey's transition to the Packers' defense should be a rather smooth one.
But that's not just because he played two years in Cleveland for Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Kirksey's confidence he can step in right away as a starting inside linebacker and defensive leader stems from the constant change he experienced over six years with the Browns – multiple schemes and coordinators that have made him no stranger to finding his footing in something new and forging ahead.
"I'm used to adapting, coming in, having to learn a new defense, having to build a relationship with coaches and players," Kirksey said in an online video interview with packers.com's Larry McCarren.
"Because there was so much change going on in Cleveland, I'm comfortable with it. You get to a certain point in your career where everything is concept. There's nothing you really haven't seen that's too different in a defense."
Stepping in for the departed Blake Martinez in Green Bay, Kirksey first and foremost wants to see the field regularly after missing 23 games over the past two seasons due to injuries.
Last year, Kirksey played in just two games before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season and, as it turned out, his six-year run in Cleveland.
But two principles the former University of Iowa standout has built his career on have remained steadfast – toughness and leadership.
His toughness was on display as he attempted to play the rest of the game in which he tore his pec, and his leadership simply resides in his makeup. He tries to personally get to know every player he plays with and figure out how to effectively motivate each one.
"When times get rough, I feel I'm that person to lean on," he said. "I'm always trying to make the man next to me better.
"I like to know guys on a personal level … and the more you know a person in-depth, the harder you play for them. Building that team atmosphere and team camaraderie is something I'm very good at."
The Packers had a tight-knit locker room in 2019, so it's easy to see Kirksey fitting in. Getting to know his teammates and coaches might take a little longer than normal with the upcoming "virtual" offseason program keeping them apart indefinitely, but from his current home base in San Diego he plans to use the online meetings and chats over the playbook as a starting point.
As someone who battled through six non-playoff years in Cleveland, including just one win through the 2016-17 seasons, Kirksey can't help but be excited about joining a team that went to the NFC title game a year ago. He's already made an impact in the Green Bay community with a donation to Paul's Pantry to help those in need during the pandemic.
The almost constant smile on his face reflects a generally positive disposition no matter the situation – losing seasons, injuries, a pandemic-adjusted offseason. For all the change he's experienced in his football career, there's a way he goes about his life, on and off the field, that doesn't change at all.
"You have to weather the storm," Kirksey said. "Everybody goes through their hardships in life or upsets they're not proud of, but life goes on. You can't sit and soak in your sorrows and pout about it. You have to keep a sound mindset and know there's a blessing in every storm.
"I believe those struggles and downfalls in Cleveland made me who I am and built my character."