BEREA, Ohio — They don’t call him ‘Hitner’ for nothing.
Browns first year defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil made it very clear how excited he is to have Donte Whitner with the Browns on the back end of his defense.
"We want to intimidate people," O’Neil said. "That’s what we want to be on defense, so I think that Donte is going to be part of the defense that helps us do that. Every great defense has an enforcer. He’s ours."
The Browns haven’t been known as an intimidating, physical defense by any stretch of the imagination in many years, but head coach Mike Pettine and O’Neil are hoping to change that perception.
Whitner, who grew up in Cleveland, played at Glenville High School and Ohio State was one of the Browns key free agent signings in free agency. O’Neil said the minute the Browns signed him they became a tougher team. Whitner considered legally changing his name to Donte Hitner, but said recently he found it to be too much on a hassle to do so. His name on Twitter is listed as ‘DonteHitner.’
"There aren’t a lot of them left, but Donte is a follow-me-or-else leader," O’Neil said. "And he made our team tougher the day he walked into the building."
Whitner has a reputation of being a hard hitter and he says there is a place for placing fear into the minds of receivers.
"The middle of the football field is a scary place," Whitner said. "It’s not a place where guys should want to go and it’s not a place guys are going to go on this defense.
"Once you put fear into opposing offenses, fear into opposing offensive players, that’s when you start to see a lot of tipped balls and guys not wanting to go into the middle of the football field and you become limited in what you can do as an offense."
Whitner, who is entering his ninth NFL season, said he takes pride in the fact he plays the right way.
"I pride myself in doing it the right way," he said. "When the NFL looks at the hits on Monday or Tuesday and they come back and say it was not a fine, it was a clean hit, I pride myself on that."
The two-time Pro Bowler said sometimes he gets penalized, but he can live with that.
"We’ll take 15 yards to instill some fear in somebody, but we are going to do it in a legal way," he said. "We’re not going to lead with the crown of our helmet, we’re going to lead with our shoulder pads, we’re going to wrap, but we are going to hit people. You’re not going to be able to run through this defense."