BEREA, Ohio (AP) — His frizzy hair flowing from the back of his helmet and those tree-trunk-sized calves separate Danny Shelton from others on the Browns’ practice field.
But there’s something else about the 339-pound defensive tackle that makes him unique.
“He’s just a big boy who can move,” said linebacker Paul Kruger.
And hit, and just maybe push Cleveland’s defense to an elite level this season.
A first-round pick from Washington, Shelton has been impressive since training camp opened. He made a huge splash last week in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage in Columbus when he rumbled across the field to put a hard hit on unsuspecting wide receiver Marlon Moore, who was lucky to escape the collision intact and got up looking for a license plate number.
“It was amazing,” Browns defensive lineman Phil Taylor said. “A lot of people don’t think 345-pound-plus guys can run to the ball, but they’re wrong.”
Shelton’s quick feet are just one of the qualities that prompted the Browns to ignore other pressing needs and use the No. 12 overall pick in this year’s draft to select him. Cleveland’s defense was ranked last in the NFL last season against the run, and the Browns believe Shelton can plug the middle of their porous front.
But beyond his ability to take on two blockers at once or pressure the quarterback — he twice flushed Johnny Manziel from the pocket during the scrimmage — Shelton has impressed Cleveland’s coaches and his teammates with a positive attitude and work ethic not always seen in young players.
Shelton is typically one of the first players on the practice field, using the extra time to get prepared physically and mentally.
And once he’s on the field, Shelton buzzes around like a gigantic bumblebee. He’s constantly in motion, bobbing to music pumping through speakers on the field or pacing while waiting for the offense to break the huddle.
“I have to be different from the norm. I challenge myself to come out every day to come out with positive energy,” the easygoing Shelton said. “If I have to fake it or bring it up and just get everybody hyped up I have to do that. My teammates know what type guy I am. I have to continue to be on that same track.”
He’s on a good one now, and as the Browns prepared to open the exhibition season on Thursday night against Washington, Kruger said Shelton reminds him of Haloti Ngata, Baltimore’s Pro Bowl nose tackle.
Kruger played alongside Ngata and sees similarities between his former and current teammate who share a Polynesian heritage.
“A little different in skill set and body type, but the one thing you can compare is power and the ability to move at that size,” Kruger said.
Shelton views Ngata as a role model.
“Haloti was definitely a guy that all Polynesians looked up to,” said Shelton. “He had all the tangibles to be great. I hope that I’m on the right track just to where he’s at.”
Shelton’s nose-to-nose matchups with Browns Pro Bowl center Alex Mack have been a daily attraction at camp. Shelton has won a few of the battles, and he’s been humbled on more than one occasion by Mack, one of the league’s best interior linemen.
“Everybody wants to get a piece of Alex,” said Shelton. “Every chance I get I want to do my best. I’m always learning from him.”
In the past few years, Shelton has immersed himself in his culture. The son of a Samoan mother, Shelton graduated with a degree in anthropology and studied abroad in Tahiti to learn more about his ancestry.
After he was selected by the Browns, Shelton walked on stage wearing a maroon lava-lava, a traditional skirt-like garment, before he bear-hugged and lifted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell off the floor. Shelton has been passing out lava-lavas to his teammates, who are proudly wearing the rookie’s gifts around the Browns’ facility.
“It’s cool,” said linebacker Karlos Dansby. “We’re embracing him, man. He’s embracing everybody. We’re a family.”