Christian Kirksey embraces the intellectual side of the game while operating as the quarterback of the Texans’ defense.
The veteran linebacker is the Texans’ designated defensive signal caller, which involves having the green dot communication system in his helmet to communicate with defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.
It’s Kirksey’s job to relay Smith’s strategy and defensive calls in the huddle to his defensive teammates as the conduit from the coaching staff.
“It's important, and I'm taking that commitment to being a leader on this defense,” Kirksey said. “I'm pushing myself above and beyond to be everything I can be for my teammates, and I think everybody is doing it individually. You know, they are looking at what their role is on that defense and on that team and they are just trying to go above and beyond.
“That's something that you know, I think plays a big factor into building the team. You've got a bunch of guys that are unselfish, a bunch of guys that are going to do what has to do to get over the hump.”
Kirksey, 28, had 77 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and four passes defensed last season for the Green Bay Packers before tearing his pectoral and undergoing surgery. He called the Packers’ defensive signals last season, too.
“Actually, my first year playing in that role was last year in Green Bay,” Kirksey said. “I got situated with that, so I'm pretty comfortable with transition here and being in that role.
“Just the terminology, concepts, and football is all the same. It's only a certain amount of defenses you really can run to where it all like blends in. So, it's really just different terminology and getting the little tricks of the trade here and there. When you've been playing in the league for eight years, you're comfortable with it.”
When Kirksey was choosing the Texans and signed a one-year contract with a maximum value of $4.5 million one thing that resonated with him was how he could fit into the Texans’ 4-3 defensive system that features the linebacker position.
Smith, a former Tulsa standout linebacker, has coached prolific linebackers in the past, including Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.
That cemented Kirksey’s decision to sign a one-year contract with a maximum value of $4.5 million
“Coming from Lovie’s experience and his history of football and just his knowledge of football, it’s definitely something that’s good for me to learn from a guy like him,” Kirksey said. “His defense is very linebacker friendly. It gives you a chance to run around, have fun, make plays. He puts a lot on his linebackers and he wants a lot of athletic linebackers. I feel like me personally, being in his system, it’s a lot of fun because it allows you to play ball. I think that every linebacker can speak for himself as far as going out there and making plays and being in this defense.”
A former third-round draft pick of the Browns, Kirksey was previously signed by Cleveland to a four-year, $38 million contract extension that included $20 million guaranteed. He has recorded 542 career tackles, 13½ sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Playing alongside the NFL’s leading tackler, Zach Cunningham, and Kevin Pierre-Louis, Kirksey arrives at a competitive time for a team coming off a 4-12 season.
“Zach, he's a great athlete,” Kirksey said. “He's one of the better linebackers in this league. I think he's a little underrated, man. You know, people don't talk about him as much as they should. You can see that he flies around, and he goes out there and he makes plays.
“He's a very athletic guy, and it's been a great experience working with him and I'm trying to, you know, push him the best that he can be and vice vera; he pushed me to become the best that I can be, and we can become a great linebacker core.”
A year ago, Kirksey purchased a home for his mother in Spring. Now, Kirksey will have a large cheering section.
“Being close to family, that’s pretty cool to be able to play in the same city that my mother is in, my brother, my aunt, my uncles, they’re all here,” Kirksey said. “When it comes to a new team and bringing in new guys and everybody’s trying to grind, everybody’s trying to compete, everybody’s trying to bring [the] Texans back to where it’s supposed to be. I want to be a part of that. I’ve always liked being part of starting somewhere from square one and then looking up and saying, this team that we built, it’s a team that people were kind of counting us out and now here we are.
“I like to be a part of that. Once I found out that Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator, from a defensive standpoint everybody knows that Lovie Smith is a legend. Playing and seeing what he’s done in the past, especially at the linebacker position, it’s almost like a no-brainer that you want to be under his coaching staff and you want to be coached by a great. That’s really what steered my decision to becoming a Texan.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.