The Green Bay Packers run defense was a big problem for the team in 2019. Anybody who watched the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers saw the Packers inability to stop Raheem Mostert and the rest of the San Francisco runners and knows that it was the biggest difference in the game.

This offseason, the Packers signed free agent inside linebacker Christian Kirksey to address this issue. Kirksey will replace the departed Blake Martinez who lacked the speed to be a consistently effective run stuffer in Mike Pettine’s defensive system. Critics explained that too many of Martinez’s tackles came five or more yards downfield and after the offense had already made a successful gain on the play.

But Kirksey has more speed than Martinez did and when he’s been healthy, he’s been able to make a lot of tackles. In his last two full seasons, Kirksey was very productive. He made 138 total tackles in 2017 including 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and six tackles for loss. The previous season, he was credited with a career-high 148 tackles, 2.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.

Injuries have cost Kirksey dearly over the past two seasons. In 2018, he played in just seven games before a hamstring injury ended his year. In 2019, a chest injury limited him to just two games played before he was forced to land on the injured reserved.

Kirksey knows he faces a challenge to regain his reputation as a football player. “For those who may have slept on me or said, ‘Oh, he’s injury prone,’ or ‘He’s not the same player he used to be,’ I’m here to prove them wrong and prove to myself that I’ve still got what it takes to be one of the best linebackers in the league,” Kirksey told Packers.com.

“I want to get back to playing great football,” Kirksey added. “Re-establishing myself and getting my name back out there and letting people know Christian Kirksey is back, Christian Kirksey is a great linebacker in this league. That’s what I’m shooting for.”

One advantage Kirksey has heading into this season is his familiarity with Pettine’s defense.