December 22, 2014

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Browns players use practice flag to help build camaraderie

PITTSBURGH – Braylon Edwards jogs out to practice, swerves toward the nearest goalpost and touches the brown flag hanging from the crossbar. Kellen Winslow is in a hurry to join offensive drills and runs straight through the flag, lifting it momentarily with his helmet.
The flag, with the uniform numbers inside an orange helmet, has become a symbol for the Browns, chosen by the players. Their slogan: Pick up the flag. The meaning: If someone has an off day, someone else picks up the slack.
“It`s more than a symbol,” running back Jason Wright said Friday. “It`s made football fun again.”
Wright couldn`t remember the exact origin of the flag, but said it was discussed at a couple of team meetings and the offensive line had a lot to do with it. Right tackle Kevin Shaffer wouldn`t divulge any details.
“I can`t talk about that,” he said. “That`s a team thing.”
The flag made its debut early in the season.
“It`s just something we all were talking about,” said kicker Phil Dawson, the only Brown who`s been here since 1999. “It`s something we`ve all been able to rally around. It stuck.”
No one was talking about chemistry after the Browns lost the opener 34-7 to Pittsburgh. But they rallied for a win in Week 2 and credited a players-only meeting.
“Players have taken a sense of ownership of how we perform,” Dawson said. “In years past, we let the coaches set the tone and then we would try to respond to that.
“We`ve got a group of guys this year that obviously listen to coaches and respond to them, but at the same time take it upon themselves to go the extra mile, do the little things right, hold each other accountable. That`s what gets me excited.”
As the wins have piled up – the Browns are riding their first three-game winning streak since 2001 – so have the unsolicited mentions of togetherness and belief in each other.
“Guys are really playing for each other, guys have become closer, guys are beginning to understand one another a lot more and beginning to disprove some of the things that they may have thought about other people,” Edwards said. “We are definitely playing for each other, and it`s showing.”
Linebacker Andra Davis has been a Brown since 2002. He said the defense has always had good chemistry, but he`s noticed a change on offense.
“Definitely. Those guys don`t care about who`s getting credit, they`re just out there playing ball, pulling for each other,” Davis said.
The players cited an increase in off-the-field activities and another year together for improved camaraderie.
“The biggest thing is trusting each other,” punter Dave Zastudil said. “That`s what guys are doing a little more.”
“The difference is getting to know your teammates, getting to play for each other,” Shaffer said. “Whenever you can look at a guy next to you and know you`re playing for them, that`s when you`re going to have a good team.”
In the midst of all the good vibes, a question must be asked: Did the chemistry bring the wins, or did the wins bring the chemistry?
The Browns don`t care. They`ve got both.
“Winning and fun cycle on one another,” Wright said.
“Sometimes when guys start believing in themselves and believing in teammates, it results in better play on the field,” Zastudil said.
That`s coach Romeo Crennel`s primary concern. And he likes how his team has been able to make big plays late in games.
“It`s a sign of a team coming together, pulling for each other and fighting for each other, and we have to continue to do that,” he said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.