Linebacker Karlos Dansby, strong safety Donte Whitner looking to help lead Browns turnaround
The Cleveland Browns filled two key defensive holes and made experience and toughness clear priorities by signing veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby and veteran strong safety and Cleveland native Donte Whitner at the start of the NFL’s free-agency period Tuesday.
“It’s an exciting day for us here, for the Cleveland Browns,” general manager Ray Farmer said Wednesday during a news conference in Berea introducing Dansby, Whitner and free-agent reserve defensive back Isaiah Trufant.
“It’s been a quick opening to free agency,” Farmer said. “And with that being stated, we’d definitely like to stay on course with what our plans are in free agency of adding the right kind of guys to this team to demonstrate the type of toughness, leadership and consistency in play that we’re looking for.”
Dansby, who spent last season with the Arizona Cardinals, takes over at inside linebacker for D’Qwell Jackson, released by the Browns and subsequently signed by the Indianapolis Colts.
“It’s a very special moment,” Whitner said. “Not too often do you get to play high school, college and play in the National Football League in the same state. And now I have this opportunity.
“I know the history of this city, I know the history of this football team. And I know, recently, it hasn’t been good. But I know, with a lot of hard work, a lot of good leadership, and a lot of good, physical football, we can change this thing around.”
Dansby, 32, was impressive last season, his 10th in the NFL. He excelled in pass coverage – with four interceptions and 19 passes defensed – and that was an area the Browns wanted to make dramatic improvement at the inside-linebacker spot.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Dansby finished last season with 122 tackles (giving him more than 100 in each of the past two years), including 6½ sacks. He also forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery.
“Last year was definitely my best year in the NFL by far,” Dansby said. “I was able to raise the play of the guys around me and it gave me the opportunity to play at the level I need to play at. And here, I feel like it’s going to be the same type of situation.
“The Browns have got a strong front, D-line. We’ve got the hard hitter in the back end (Whitner), just to insure everything over the top. And we keep adding pieces and pieces, and I think we’re going to do something special this season. I didn’t have any choice. I had to come.”
Dansby joined the Cardinals in 2004, as a second-round draft pick from Auburn. He joined the Miami Dolphins as a free agent in 2010, but after three seasons, he returned to the Cardinals in 2013 on a one-year contract. Dansby has been a starter in all but nine of 136 regular-season appearances.
Whitner, 28, has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons. Last year, he was credited with 78 tackles and two forced fumbles. The 5-10, 208-pound graduate of Cleveland’s Glenville High School also had two interceptions.
Whitner was a first-round draft pick, eighth overall, of the Buffalo Bills in 2006. He had his first career interception in his very first game, against Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Whitner’s first touchdown came in 2009, on a 76-yard interception return against then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Byron Leftwich.
In 2010, his final season with the Bills before joining the 49ers as a free agent, Whitner had a career-high 18 tackles against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has started all but three of his 116 regular-season appearances in eight NFL seasons.
Trufant, 31, had been with the New York Jets, and spent three years under the guidance of Browns coach Mike Pettine when Pettine was the Jets’ defensive coordinator.
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