Browns safety Donte Whitner believes it takes "nasty guys" to win football games.
BEREA, Ohio -- At several points during the first six practices of training camp under first-year coach Mike Pettine, the competition with the Cleveland Browns' offense and defense has boiled overall into scuffles between players on each side of the football.
But while fighting has not been encouraged by the coaching staff, veteran players see the combative nature as proof of a change in attitude for a team that has incurred six straight double-digit loss seasons and made just one postseason appearance, in 2002, since returning to the NFL in 1999.
"Everybody thinks that fighting is bad, but fighting's not bad when you have helmets on and you're not throwing punches," Browns safety Donte Whitner said. "It's guys getting frustrated. It's both sides of the ball getting heated and both sides of the ball getting physical and that's what we want.
"We don't want two nice sides of the ball. We don't want nice offensive linemen. We don't want nice defensive linemen. We want guys who are nasty and that want to drive guys back in the fourth quarter, and that's what we're trying to develop."
One of the recent scuffles involved nearly a quarter of the roster, and started when running back Ben Tate, who was already frustrated because of the defense's aggressive nature of tackling during a non-live tackling drill, fired a football into the facemask of nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin after having several defenders hit him on the arms while reaching in to create a turnover.
"That was a big one, and that's how we like it really," Whitner said. "That's how we like it. We don't want any soft guys around here. We want guys going to bat for each other. We're not trying to hurt each other, but if one of your guys is fighting the opposition, you have to jump in and help or separate them.
"It all started because guys were being physical, guys were being extra physical, putting a little extra in after the whistle. You don't want nice guys on defense. You want nasty guys. You don't want nice guys on offense and the offensive line. You want nasty guys. That's what winning football teams are built on -- built in the trenches on nasty football."
In addition to developing a nasty reputation "in the trenches," Whitner wants the team, and particularly, the defensive side of the football, to become mentally tough because he has seen it lead to success in the past.
After multiple losing seasons, the San Francisco 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh as their head coach, and signed Whitner a free agent in 2011. Through tough practices and aggressive play-calling, the 49ers earned three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game, and made an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII.
"It's just like that conditioning test," Whitner said of practice during training camp. "It was easy to run the first 10, the first 15, but when you get to the last five, four, three and two, you really see who wants to play football.
"It's the same thing in the NFL. You can go out in the beginning of the game when you're fresh and play well in the first quarter and the second quarter. You can come out at halftime and play well in the third quarter; but when it's crunch time and the opposition is still running the football at you, the fullback is still hitting you, who's going to fold?
"That's where the good football teams rise to the occasion. They remain mentally tough. They understand what's on the line. A long time ago, I learned if you put a lot of work into this game, it's hard to surrender in the fourth quarter. That's why we put so much work into the offseason, so that in the fourth quarter, it's hard to surrender those close games."