Cleveland Browns safety Donte Whitner wants the secondary to be considered "elite" around the league.


BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns safety Donte Whitner is focused on the details.

He wants to understand the system that head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil will continue installing during the offseason program and throughout training camp so that the Browns can be a respected secondary in the NFL.

"The offensive side of the ball, they're picking up things well," Whitner said after last Wednesday's practice. "The defensive side of the ball, we're trying to get to a graduate level. When I say graduate level, I mean everyone knows what the defense is, but what are the intricate details within the defense that can help us reach our goals?

"That's what we're trying to achieve right now on the defensive side of the football, and that's every individual and collectively, as a group. Right now, we're not where we want to be, but we're making great strides."

Whitner knows that learning the details of the defensive scheme in the film room will help the Browns when they hit the field on Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in the 15 games that follow.

"I believe we can be top-notch, but there's still a lot of work to be done," Whitner said. "We still have to play, and get with each other a lot more in the classroom so we know what each other is thinking on each and every play.

"If somebody makes a mistake, let's be able to cover for him as far as safety. We can have one of the top secondaries in the National Football League, and right now, we have that on paper, but you still have to put that on the field."

Whitner will team with free safety Tashaun Gipson on the back end of the Browns' defense, and they could be a good complement to each other.

While Whitner is known for his hard-hitting ways, Gipson enters the 2014 season after a career year in pass defense. The former undrafted free agent intercepted five passes, returned those turnovers for 143 yards and scored a 44-yard touchdown on one of his two takeaways in a 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears last December.

Having been to the Pro Bowl before, Whitner knows what it takes to be considered one of the NFL's elite safeties, and is determined to help Gipson get to that same level.

"I knew he was No. 5 or 6 in the league in interceptions," Whitner said. "Sometimes, that can be deceiving, but when you get here and you start playing with a guy, you see his mannerisms. You see his work ethic inside the classroom and on the football field. Then, you start to understand who he is.

"He's an extremely hard worker. He's an extremely young guy for the things that he's achieved in the league already. I'm just here to help him get across that water, and when I say, 'get across that water,' that's get to the Pro Bowl. When you get to the Pro Bowl, that means you've stepped your game up to another level and that's what I'm here to help him do."

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