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Miles Austin's leadership helped Browns win games

When you go back and review the veteran additions Browns general manager Ray Farmer made in 2014, the first few names that come to mind are Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby and Andrew Hawkins.

Often forgotten is wide receiver Miles Austin.

After seeing himself phased out of the Cowboys' offense in 2013, the longtime playmaking weapon was released last spring.

Austin waited by the phone. And waited. And waited. No dice from any of the 31 NFL teams.

"I got pretty good at golf at that time," Austin said with a laugh.

Once May rolled around, Farmer pounced on the 30-year-old, and with a fully healthy hamstring, Austin made the NFL teams who passed on him look unwise. Austin averaged four catches and 48 yards per contest in 12 games, but those numbers don't paint the whole picture.

It was the veteran's ability to consistently get open on routes while the No. 1 cornerback marked him for most of the game, freeing up Hawkins and rookie Taylor Gabriel. And who could forget the timely big plays? In a Week 2 victory against the Saints, Austin caught four passes for 27 yards on the final drive, eventually ending in a Billy Cundiff game-winning field goal.

"He made some clutch plays for us," coach Mike Pettine said. "He could go for a period of time where he didn't have much production, and all of a sudden when we needed it – when it was a big third down, when it was a two-minute drive."

What said the most about Austin was what transpired in December. After suffering a scary kidney injury Nov. 30 against the Bills, the Browns placed Austin on the injured reserve list.

The veteran could've recovered in the convenience of his own home. Instead, Austin was just as prevalent at practice and in meetings as he was when he was healthy – and maybe even more so. Austin embraced the big brother role with Cleveland's young wide receiving corps. He imparted wisdom of X's and O's but, even more so, taught them about being a successful professional.

In a group of unheralded guys, Austin could relate. Because he was undrafted out of Monmouth, Austin scratched and clawed to make a name for himself. He reminded Browns teammates all year to never let their foot off the gas pedal because when you do, this league will catch up to you. 

"It's always good to go out with the guys and speak to everyone on a personal level," Austin said. "As far as advice, I tell them everything I think about during games and my career different things that I've gone through. Like dealing with injuries, like being undrafted. Just my story. I feel like I relate to a bunch of the guys on the team. I'm learning things from them, too, and we are working together as a team."

Back in an exit interview in December, Austin made it clear he'd like to return to Cleveland. The free-agent-to-be cited his bond with assistant coaches and players. But the wide receiver admires the way Pettine approaches being a head coach. 

"He just takes care of us," Austin said. "He keeps us focused on the business we need to take care of. Each week he prepares us the right way. He has us ready for each individual game. He's a guy you enjoy playing for. You want to win for him."

Without Austin, do the Browns win seven games? That's a fair question after the veteran's bounce-back season.

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