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Donte Whitner, Brian Hoyer preparing younger teammates for Thursday Night Football


Coach Mike Pettine put it perfectly for what will be the biggest challenge for the Cleveland Browns as they travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals on Thursday Night Football.

"This is much more of a mental week than it is physical," Pettine told the media on Wednesday. "We're hopeful that the veterans in the locker room that have gone through it can help out [younger players."

The veteran leaders Pettine has empowered are littered all over the roster. And they're ready to keep their younger teammates loose while also keeping the adrenaline running. 

Last season with the San Francisco 49ers, Donte Whitner played in five primetime games. As one of the new leaders on the Browns, Whitner won't fret to his teammates about how different the nationally-televised game can feel, especially one for first place in the AFC North.

On Thursday night before kickoff, Whitner will walk around the locker room in Paul Brown Stadium and make sure the younger players don't have stage freight or worry about the additional hoopla of media and cameras.

But the most important wisdom that will come from Whitner's mouth will be about respect, and the lack there of that the Browns are getting – and making sure his teammates aren't getting caught up in anything else besides beating the Bengals.

"We know that people aren't going to give us a chance," Whitner said. "Nobody gave us a chance before the season. People had us winning one, two, three football games. We don't pay attention to that. We don't care about outside opinions."

Whitner has reminded teammates that outsiders also heavily reminded the team that Ben Roethlisberger was 18-1 against the Browns, until Cleveland humiliated the Steelers 31-10 on Oct. 12.

The same types of messages are coming this week. The Browns haven't beaten an AFC North team on the road since 2008. The Bengals are 13-0-1 in their last 14 home games.

"We don't really worry about previous records because it's a whole new regime, from top to bottom" Whiter said in the locker room on Tuesday. "We are not worried about how the past Cleveland Browns did or how they matched up with the Cincinnati Bengals. We are worried about what we can control, and that's now, 2014."

The only person on the roster who's seen more primetime games than Whitner also happens to be the leader of the Browns' offense. Granted, Brian Hoyer wasn't playing in the primetime affairs that his former Patriots are always featured in, but the sixth-year pro has used his predisposition in New England so far in 2014 and will reach back in that memory bank again on Thursday.

"Every year I was in New England every game was meaningful all the way through December, January and February, so it's nothing that's new to me," Hoyer said of the added pressure of Thursday night football for the division lead.

With that in mind, Hoyer's advice for other teammates has been simple: put your head down and work harder.

"I think, if anything, it's almost better to have it on a quick week," said Hoyer. "You don't have much to think about. You really have to get in here and focus on the opponent, focus on your game plan because it's such a quick turnaround. If you think about anything else you're going to be off your game."

Joel Bitonio is a key Browns player who will be tasked at times with trying to block monster All-Pro Bengals defensive lineman Geno Atkins. And he's also a player who has been consulted by some of the older veterans.

On Monday night, Bitonio spent a few hours of his down time at home watching the Bengals on tape, over and over again. During meetings and walkthroughs this week, the rookie has sensed how big this game is for his team and the city of Cleveland, which was exactly coach Pettine's plan all along.

"We want to be in these situations," said Bitonio. "We don't want to looking up from the bottom of the division. It's time to play our hearts out and see what happens."

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