Whitner, Dansby brought in to lead

August, 20, 2014
8/20/14
11:00
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BEREA, Ohio -- A team that has lost at least 11 games in each of the past six seasons needs a culture change.

So in the offseason, the Cleveland Browns accepted the loss of two veterans who had done nothing but lose to bring in two veterans they thought could change the culture.

Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner do not back down from the challenge.

"We have to step up," Dansby told the media during training camp, "and rewrite the history of the Cleveland Browns."

Whitner
"I believe you can change the culture of a football team," Whitner said.

Big talk, but coach Mike Pettine said changing the culture and adding leadership was the reason the team went for the pair of veterans and let T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson go. Pettine said he thought that bringing the two positive veterans in would change a vibe that badly needed changing.

"They’re tired of losing," Dansby said. "They want to win. So they’re looking to us to lead and show them how to."

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil has called Whitner more than once a "follow me or else" guy.

"There aren’t a lot of them left," O’Neil said.

Pettine said Whitner "elevates" the guys around him.

Whitner went to three NFC Championship Games the past three seasons with San Francisco. He comes back to his hometown; he is a product of Ted Ginn Sr.’s legendary inner-city program in Glenville, Ohio. And Whitner arrives determined to make an impact in his community.

He also wants to make it on the field, but he’s a bit more of a realist about how it happens.

He has talked about changing the culture, but says it has to happen on the field first. If the Browns win, his words take on more meaning. If he’s productive, words take on added weight.

Jackson was as good a leader as the Browns have had since 1999, but he didn’t often challenge players. Whitner won’t be afraid to do that. When a receiver backed away from a catch to avoid Whitner in minicamp, he yelled "You’re scared!" at the receiver.

The idea? The young receiver won’t be scared if he faces another team.

The notion that leadership breeds wins is probably foolish. Junior Seau was a great leader who never won a Super Bowl. Same for Bernie Kosar.

But both helped their teammates by making them better and by setting a professional example.

A leader can help keep a team together and going in the right direction. In today’s NFL, where differences between teams can be minute, a push here or a gentle shove there might make a difference.

That’s what the Browns hope Whitner and Dansby bring.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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