Rookie could be Browns’ starter at LB

CLEVELAND – Don’t be surprised if rookie Chris Kirksey starts the season at inside linebacker next to Karlos Dansby.

Kirksey has made the move from college at the University of Iowa to the NFL look easy at times. He played mainly on the outside for the Hawkeyes, but in camp he’s worked much of the time on the inside.

“He’s been great,” coach Mike Pettine said. “If you were just an observer at practice and didn’t have a roster, you wouldn’t think he was a rookie. He’s great on the practice field. He asks the right questions. He’s been very engaging in the meeting rooms. He’s really leaned on Karlos, who is a good resource for those young linebackers.”

Kirksey made the play that allowed the defense to win the daily challenge and wear orange jerseys at today’s practice. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Kirksey stepped in front of tight end Jim Dray and broke up a pass thrown by Johnny Manziel.

Kirksey’s coverage skills could be the difference in him taking a starting spot away from Craig Robertson.

“The one thing we didn’t get a lot of looks from his college tape was from being an inside-the-box linebacker,” Pettine said. “He walked out a lot over top receivers. We knew he could cover because he played over top of wideouts, and there were some reps of him inside, but we felt better when he got here that this kid is a complete linebacker.”

BIG HURDLE: Quarterback Brian Hoyer crossed a mental obstacle during Tuesday’s practice when he bounced up quickly after being hit on the knee he injured last season.

“It was more scary than anything else,” Hoyer said. “I went down and waited for there to be some pain, and there wasn’t. It was actually kind of good to have some confidence going into Saturday knowing that I’ve actually taken a real hit.”

GAINING GROUND: Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert logged time with the first-team defense. Later in the practice Buster Skrine, who had been working exclusively with the ones, was back with the unit.

It’s just a matter of time before Gilbert is named a starter, which would move Skrine inside. Gilbert has been impressive since day one and continues to make strides.

DAY OFF: Offensive tackle Joe Thomas and receiver Travis Benjamin were given the day off. Thomas’ veteran status has allowed him an occasional off day. Benjamin, who had knee surgery last season, was resting the knee.

INJURY REPORT: Safety Tashaun Gipson returned to practice after missing three practices with a minor knee injury. Linebacker Tank Carder also was back on the field after missing most of camp. Tight end Jordan Cameron missed another day with a shoulder injury suffered in the scrimmage last Saturday.

CAMPING OUT: Manziel stepped up in the pocket and threw a short touchdown pass to Dray during red zone drills. … Fans were more reactive to anything Manziel did than they were when Hoyer was on the field. A simple pass from Manziel to Andrew Hawkins on an out route brought applause from the stands. … Much of the practice focused on the ground game. Nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin stood out in those drills. … There aren’t as many national reporters at practice as there were in the first week. That will change if Manziel has a good showing Saturday against the Lions. … Today’s practice is closed to the public. Four practices will be open next week – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday – before camp is closed to the public.