After arriving in Cleveland without the fanfare of some other recent free agent acquisitions, outside linebacker Antwan Peek is a man on a mission to make his mark in Cleveland Browns Stadium this fall.
Those who have seen him play throughout his career know that Peek plays with reckless abandon, matching a "never give up" philosophy that he has held throughout his life. It is a philosophy he's needed at times in his career, mostly recently battles with injuries which slowed him down significantly in 2007.
"You can't take anything for granted when you are competing and surrounded by some of the best athletes in the world. Football is a physical game, it takes a toll on you physically and mentally," Peek told the OBR in a recent interview, "To stay at this level, you need to produce, to fight, be willing to sacrifice all you have.
A player does these things, if they want to win and be respected by the guys we go to battle with, day-in and day-out."
The career sacks leader (27.5) for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, Peek was a third-round draft selection of the young Houston Texans. After a productive 2005 season in Houston, where he had six sacks and was in on 46 tackles, Peek was presented with an unexpected challenge.
After replacing Dom Capers, new Texans head coach Gary Kubiak decided to change their defensive philosophy. The resulting shift to a 4-3 defensive scheme by the Texans meant that Peek had to move from outside linebacker to defensive end.
"I liked playing in Houston, but they changed the defensive scheme (to the 4-3) and I did not get the playing time I wanted. The change in scheme was an adjustment, one I was sure I could make, but things happen for a reason." Peek said. "After the 2006 season, I was a free agent and ready for a challenge and opportunity to play. Coming to Cleveland, I knew Coach Grantham and knew the base defense (3-4).
An ability to play aggressively in the Cleveland's 3-4 defense lured Peek to Cleveland prior to the 2007 season.
"With the opportunity to play in a system I knew, I thought I could become a real part of something special in Cleveland."
The Browns had identified Peek as a player with high upside prior to the 2006 free agency period, and aggressively pursued him from the onset of free agency. Peek was chased by other teams, but signed with the Browns due to the defensive scheme and belief the tide was changing in Cleveland.
With his sights set on a role at outside linebacker, Peek was solid in training camp, earning himself the starting job opposite Kamerion Wimbley in the Cleveland defense.
"I was back in the 3-4, the guys we have here were solid and I really looked forward to playing and having a chance, a chance to win," Peek says, "As a defense, we got better as camp went along, I was becoming comfortable in my role and everybody was set on the same page, ready for the season."
Then, the wheels blew off the wagon in the season opener against the Steelers.
Because of the devastating loss and ensuring changes at quarterback, many observers may not remember what happened to Antwan Peek in Game One. But it had a significant impact on the Browns defense.
Peek's season changed dramatically during that game, as the linebacker suffered a knee injury which would hinder him throughout the remainder of the season.
"I tore the meniscus in my right knee. I had the option of surgery - which would have put me out and no help to the team - or playing with the knee and doing what I could do. I didn't want to sit, so I played, that is who I am," Peek said. "Then the ankle gave me some problems later in the season."
Peek he remained competitive, but the injuries robbed him of some of his burst and quickness, key assets that make him a standout coming off the edge.
As the season progressed, staying on the field became increasingly difficult, as the ankle sprain kept him out of two games (coaches decision) late in the season.
With the Browns in a fight to make the playoffs, the hungry linebacker was not going to stand on the sidelines without laying everything out there. The Cleveland defense was markedly improved in the second-half of the season and were playing well down the home-stretch.
"Man, we were right there, in the race. That's all you can ask for as a player... that opportunity. Not only for ourselves and the organization, but the fans. The fans gave us energy, they pumped me up, we wanted to win badly, we were so damn close," Peek told the OBR, "It took us awhile to get it together, but everything was working together, the offense, the defense, in the end we just didn't make enough plays to get the job done."
Following the disappointing near-miss of the playoffs, Peek underwent surgery to repair the knee and diligently rehabbed in preparation for a next season.
As with many of the players in the Cleveland locker-room, Peek gives one the sense of unfinished business and a focus on the 2008 season.
As free agency loomed, the Browns consummated a trade with the Green Bay Packers for defensive lineman Corey Williams. Then, in sudden fashion, the organization secured a deal with the Detroit Lions for the services of Shaun Rogers.
The two moves should create a striking ripple effect of changes within the Cleveland defense, which will alter the way that linebackers and defensive backs will be utilized.
Peek looks forward to playing behind the refurbished line.
"You can't imagine what it means to get a guy like Shaun Rogers or Corey Williams in here, much less both these guys. We go from guys up-front getting worn down and beat-up to having these guys in here with Robaire (Smith) and Shaun (Smith). We are not going to be pushed around. It's going to get nasty. It's just huge man, these guys can create push, keep bodies off us (the LB's), which will let us run and make plays," Peek said.
There are more differences in Peek than just a recovered knee and help on the defensive line. The linebacker seems remarkably fit and is playing at a more comfortable weight than he was at this time last year.
During the 2007 season, Peek played at the heaviest weight of his career, because of Cleveland's concern about their defensive line. Peek had to be physically larger in the Cleveland defensive scheme to combat the physical pounding of opposing offensive linemen. At close to 265 pounds, Peek was required to play his outside linebacker position somewhat differently than he did in Houston, or envisioned when coming to Cleveland.
"I was about 13-pounds heavier than my normal playing weight (250-255-lbs) last season and I felt it did slow me down a little. This year, I am back at my normal weight, I'm healthy and it is going to make a difference."
Healthy, with a taste of success and with new weapons, Antwan Peek is ready to show Browns fans what he can do: "With the guys we have here, we are going to get after it. You haven't seen the best of Antwan Peek, we are going to go and take ours, this is our time. We are going to win for the fans, for this organization and lastly for ourselves, I can tell you that."