© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Culture change no longer just buzz words for Browns, it’s a way of life

Players rally together to finally lift franchise from the depths of being dead last

December 21, 2018

Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – For years we’ve heard about how the Browns culture is changing, or is about to, yet it never really did.

The merry-go-round of executives, coaches and players spun non-stop while the losses piled up, but at long last happy days are here again.

For the first time in what feels like forever, there is tangible evidence of a changing culture within the team.  

“I believe with all of my heart that culture beats strategy any day of the week,” interim head coach Gregg Williams said. “When you have that they way it is supposed to be, then we can start to do things in a way schematically that fits the athletic ability of the guys you have around, but you have to have the right culture.

“That starts from internal leadership, and then the internal leadership taking it to the field, and inside the white lines on gameday, that same type of mentality has to be there.”

When Williams took over on Oct. 29 after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired the Browns were 2-5-1 and another season appeared to be headed right down the drain. His job was to help them limp to the finish line, but something else has happened instead.

The Browns have won 4 of their last 5 games, managed to creep – albeit briefly – into the playoff conversation, and now have their first winning record within the AFC North and just the third above-.500 finish since 1999 squarely in their sights.

“Let me guess, that’s a stat that hasn’t been done in 20 years,” receiver Jarvis Landry said.

Landry, who was one of the first key players acquired by general manager John Dorsey via trade from Miami in March, knew he was joining a team that went winless in 2017 and was 1-31 the previous 2 seasons.

What he didn’t realize is how awful it has been these last 20 years, which has given him a profound respect for the role he’s playing in reviving the Browns.

“I feel like until you hear and see and feel what has been felt by the people that’s been in it, you don’t really understand the magnitude of it,” Landry said. “Now being here, being a Cleveland Brown, playing inside of this division and understanding you guys’ feelings and the city as well, you understand what this game means.

“I’m happy to be a part of it now and appreciate it. I hope we can do that for you guys, for real.”

Within the locker room players like Landry have taken it upon themselves to finally lift the franchise off the floor, led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

“We want to win our last two games,” Mayfield said. “If the guys on this team don’t want to do that, then you can get out. That is quite frankly how I feel.”

With their playoff hopes down to slim and all but none, Mayfield and the Browns aren’t ready to pack it in for the offseason. They remain all business as the Bengals are set to roll into town.

“I love it,” Williams said when asked about Mayfield’s comment. “I will back that up. Every single week. You do not want to be around guys that want to be in a club or want to be a part of something unless it is winning. That is why he has the locker room.

“In practice, there could be a bad play or two and then all of a sudden, bam, he circles the wagons. Joe Schobert does the same thing, too. Myles did it a couple of times today. That is what you need inside of the white lines.”

While it’ll take the miracle of miracles to slide into the sixth and final seed in the AFC, safety Damarious Randall isn’t ready to give up.

Not yet.

“So, you’re telling me there’s a chance,” Randall said with a smile.

Randall, also acquired in March – from Green Bay, has established himself as a defensive cornerstone and game-changer in the secondary whose swagger has rubbed off.

“It is exciting. Since I have been here, 1-31 the first two years and now turning it around, we have a chance to go 8-7-1 if we win these last two games,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “You can definitely feel the emotions and the swagger in the locker room are just totally different than it has been. It is just exciting. It is going to be awesome. I think we are building something really special.”

The Browns are also playing smarter.

Dumb penalties are down, mistakes aren’t nearly as costly as they used to be, and they no longer fall apart when the first sign of adversity hits.

“Every time we've won now, it makes me happy because I went through so much losing,” left guard Joel Bitonio, a second-round pick in 2014, said. “We're still not there yet, we still have a ways to go, but just to win games, it's so much better than losing.

“I had a bad play on Saturday, gave up a sack and after the game I was like, you know what, I'm going to get better from that play, but we won this game and that didn't hurt us from winning the game, which is something I haven't been able to say in a long time.”

What is taking place within the locker room is something that hasn’t been seen here in a long, long time and is past overdue.

“We are not there yet. We are not satisfied,” Mayfield said. “But there is progress, and that is something not to take very lightly. To realize what we have and to continue to do that and build on it. Not be satisfied with how we are doing that. Continue to find ways to improve and get better.

“Ever since I have been comfortable enough, [I] kind of let my personality show and let all of that go and we have started to see everybody else do that, and it is a culture change.”

The Browns, who entered the season with the worst record in the NFL since 1999 and were coming off the worst 3-year stretch in league history, are on the rise.

It can be felt in the locker room, on the practice field and the results over the last 6 weeks speak for themselves.