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Why Danny Shelton's leadership aspirations and a number change go hand-in-hand

Danny Shelton's push for a leadership role on and off the field for the Browns comes with a new jersey number the nose tackle proudly wore last month upon the start of offseason workouts.

Shelton, who switched from No. 71 to No. 55, explained to reporters why those two things might go hand-in-hand.

"No. 55 is a number that's been worn by a lot of great players," said Shelton, who pointed to the late Junior Seau, a fellow Samoan and former NFL star, and his older brother, Shennon, who passed in 2011 following an altercation in his hometown of Auburn, Washington.

"There's always going to be that aspect of trying to live up to the number. That's exactly what I'm going to do."

After all, there are big expectations for Shelton as the Browns enter what head coach Hue Jackson calls "Phase Two" of the team's spring work; the 2015 first-round draft pick is expected to play a key role on a defense coming into form under defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

"He basically wants me to make sure that I'm doing the right thing, that I'm not seeing myself as a rookie anymore. He wants me to step up and take on a new role," said Shelton, who added he felt like he underachieved at times last season.

"That new role could be the leader of the defense, the leader of the defensive line, the leader of this team. Really I'm just going through everything that they're teaching us and making sure that I'm doing this at the best of my ability."

In February, Horton outlined his vision for Shelton and where the former Washington Huskie fits on a 3-4 defense predicated on getting after the quarterback.

"Danny can be a unique player for us. He's really, really bright, intelligent, very outgoing. He wants to do well. He wants to succeed. He wants to be part of a championship defense. We are going to try to give him every opportunity to do that," Horton said.

"One of the things I don't want for Danny is I don't want him to always have to come off the field. I want him to be able to stay on the field as much as we want him on the field ... He is going to be a big part of our plans."

And Shelton, who said he's lost about 15 pounds while adding muscle mass to his 6-foot-2, 300-plus pound frame, wants to put himself in the best possible position to do just that.

"I'm excited for this year because Ray Horton and (first-year defensive line coach Robert) Nunn, they're both giving me the opportunity," he said. "They're saying the opportunity's there and all I have to do is step up and take that spot."

And with a new number to remind him of that goal, Shelton seems up to the challenge.

"I'm going to focus on playing for the Browns and playing my butt off," he said.

"I'm also going to focus on representing this number the right way on the field and off the field."​

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