Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby preached to reporters on a Monday teleconference, and his message was as passionate and honest as any on record this season.
While expressing regret for how Cleveland's promising season unfolded down the stretch, Dansby wanted to make one thing very clear for public consumption: The Browns had several breakthroughs in 2014 – enough to spawn major optimism heading into the offseason.
"I definitely feel good about the team's direction," Dansby said. "We have a young team. We've been in a lot of battles. We're all battled-tested now. Hopefully we can go into this offseason and understand what it takes to be successful on a consistent basis."
Dansby was asked what the Browns need to add in the offseason to improve, and his response surprised those on the call – the Browns have the answers already on the roster.
"We made strides. People didn't have us winning seven games, y'all had us winning one game – if that," Dansby said. "But we surprised y'all. Like I said, we are on a mission. We are a team with purpose, man. We are purpose-driven … If I was the general manager, I would keep everybody. And let's go get it next year."
Dansby's strong belief in the success Cleveland achieved begins with the rapport he and other players developed with the coaching staff. The back-and-forth dialogue between veterans and the assistant coaches was vibrant on both sides of the ball, as offensive tackle Joe Thomas also indicated just a few minutes before Dansby.
Dansby, 33, mainly trusts the direction in which coach Mike Pettine is leading the Browns. While he acknowledged the coach and the players weren't perfect, Dansby said another year of continuity should broaden the Browns' definition of success.
"He's meant the whole deal to us, man," Dansby said of the first-year head coach. "And I think we did the same for him. I think it was an even flow … To have him back next year and the whole staff, I think we will be more dynamic, more aggressive and we'll do a lot of things differently. And, we'll come out with a lot more wins."
Sunday's game against the Panthers marked the first time Dansby had been on the football field since Nov. 16, when he injured the MCL in his knee against the Texans. Dansby registered a team-high 12 tackles and has 81 on the season. But in the loss came Carolina's 209 rushing yards, a number that was completely unacceptable for Cleveland's standards.
"We have to be technique-sound on every play," Dansby said. "Different calls, different responsibilities, guys have to do their part and we've got to do it together.
"I think we have the people to get the job done, to be honest. We just have to do it together. That comes with gelling and being around each other more. We only did this within five months. You've got to understand that … a lot of new pieces are in the fold right now. A whole new offensive scheme. We did a lot of things that y'all felt was impossible to do."
The moral of the story from Dansby's eyes is the Browns aren't going to let a December slump overshadow the progress they made this season. With some minor tweaks to the way it defends the run, the Browns' defense is balanced and full of playmakers. For the first half of the season, quarterback Brian Hoyer and the offense carried the torch as the unit the team leaned upon.
Said Dansby: "We're looking forward to the future."