Donte Whitner is excited about his homecoming as a member of the Cleveland Browns
This was bigger than merely getting a big, fat free-agent contract from a new NFL team.
Donte Whitner is coming home.
The Pro Bowl strong safety is being reunited with family and friends. He is able to make a significant personal connection that most in his line of work only get to realize during the offseason when they're playing.
After five years with the Buffalo Bills and three with the San Francisco 49ers, Whitner is finally able to play for the team in the same city where he starred in high school, Glenville, and in the same state where he starred in college, The Ohio State University.
"Now, I'm back home," Whitner said Wednesday during a news conference introducing him and the Browns' two other signings at the start of the NFL's free-agency period, linebacker Karlos Dansby and reserve defensive back Isaiah Trufant. "Everything happens for a reason. I'm glad that I'm here now."
For many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity to see more of his two children, ages six and seven. That was much harder to do the past three seasons, while Whitner was a member of the 49ers.
He estimated that he had "115 texts" that he had yet to answer since word first got out that he had signed with the Browns, and was looking forward to visiting with numerous family members and friends that he wasn't able to see after his arrival to Cleveland late Tuesday night and because of his early morning physical examination/midday contract-signing/late-day media obligations on Wednesday.
Whitner also enjoyed seeing the many Browns fans who sent photos of him wearing a photo-shopped Browns jersey to his Twitter account, @DonteWhitner.
But he isn't merely looking at playing for the Browns as an opportunity to be closer to loved ones and friends.
Whitner wants to make a difference in the community, especially with young people living in Cleveland's inner-city.
"Now I have an opportunity to go back and give them an opportunity to touch me," Whitner said. "They can see on TV, 'Oh, he came from Glenville; he's from Cleveland.' But when you're playing in the same city, and you know about the inner-city kids, and you come from being one of those kids, it's just a 20-, 30-minute ride to get to them and speak to them and talk to them, and let them really see you, and you give them your time, it really means a lot.
"The city of Cleveland is not doing too well right now. There are a lot of inner-city things that are going on, and I feel like I can be an influence on some of these kids, a lot of these kids, actually."
Of course, Whitner understands his primary purpose for returning to Northeast Ohio is to help make the Browns a better team.
He brings some very strong credentials to the table, having reached the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. Whitner, 28, also has been a part of a 49er team that, two months ago was in the NFC Championship Game, and came close to winning the Super Bowl the previous year.
He intends to be an effective leader on a roster filled with young players, and with younger ones to be added through the draft and post-draft free agency.
"Whenever you come from a winning organization and you come to a team that hasn't really had that winning success as of late, you really have to change the culture, you have to change the mindset and you have to change the feel within the locker room," Whitner said. "I believe with us three, along with some other guys who have already been here – you have Joe Haden and you have a bunch of different guys who have played football here and are top-notch guys in the National Football League – we can get this thing turned around.
"On the defensive side of the football – all three of us play defense – it starts with being sound fundamentally, first and foremost, understanding the game from a mental aspect. Then, it starts with being physical. Are you a defense that is feared by offenses around the National Football League?
"That comes with being physical each and every play. That starts with the defensive line getting after the quarterback; it starts with the 'backers fitting and hitting guys and getting guys on the ground; and then it starts with the safeties and the corners by really adding that dimension that guys don't want to see. They don't want to come across the middle when you have guys like that. It's going to start with that, being a physical football team."
But it can't stop there. Whitner fully understands as much.
The Browns need to turn that physical style of play into more victories than they've had through a six-year run of four- and five-win seasons.
"I'm ready to embark on this new journey and I'm ready to win some football games in Cleveland," Whitner said. "I know the fans here are top-notch fans, and they deserve a winning season, they deserve to get to the playoffs and they deserve winning football. And that's what we're here for."
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