By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Taking care of business: When Joe Haden told me he is getting married June 29 in Miami, my first reaction was to say, “Be good, now.”
He smiled and said, “For sure, man.”
It was roughly 13 months ago when Haden was surprised with an offseason NFL random drug test while vacationing in Las Vegas. He tested positive for the NFL-banned stimulant Adderall. Subsequent an appeal, Haden was suspended for four games, from Game 2 through 5.
The cost was immense. To Haden, more than $1.3 million in salary and disqualification from any post-season honors. To the team, four losses in which the secondary was torched for 10 touchdown passes.
Internally, Haden received support from his team. Externally, he was excoriated for being selfish, careless, not smart.
“I’ve been through a lot, been through the struggles,” Haden said following Thursday’s OTA practice. “So, I know how it feels to be at the bottom, and just have people against you and just being hated on. This year, starting off fresh, I’m just trying to show just a new Joe. This is going to be my fourth year. Me and T.J. (Ward) are trying to take over the whole DB room and just the whole defense, with D’Qwell (Jackson), just being a leader by example.”
Haden knows that being a leader by example means doing the things necessary to help his team win. And being suspended isn’t one of them. It was a brutally costly lesson.
The silver lining?
“I feel with what I’ve been through -- what I wanted to do last year and I had a setback -- this year’s going to be my year. I just want to bring the team with me,” Haden said.
We rush, you cover: Haden said that new defensive coordinator Ray Horton always compares him to Patrick Peterson, the cornerback Horton left behind with the Arizona Cardinals.
Peterson is a physical freak – 6-0 ¼ and 219 pounds, who ran a 4.31 40 at the NFL combine in 2011. In his rookie year, Peterson made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist. Last year, he did it as a cornerback, turning in seven interceptions.
“He just wants me to be elite and says there’s no reason I shouldn’t be recognized,” Haden said of Horton.
Horton played cornerback 10 years in the NFL, broke into the NFL coaching ranks as a defensive backs coach under Norv Turner, and was mentored as a coach by Pittsburgh Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback. Yet it’s extremely interesting to note that Haden said Horton scarcely gives his secondary the time of day during this “system installation” portion of the season.
“His defense is not really with the secondary,” Haden said. “He doesn’t do too much talking to us. It’s just, ‘You all know what this coverage is. Get your man.’ It’s ‘get the quarterback or bust.’ I think that’s why we just went so hard with getting D-linemen and basically pass rushers to make things happen.
“I like what I see a whole lot. His scheme, his blitzes, everything he calls, a lot of the stuff gets there (to the QB). The quarterback doesn’t have a lot of time to throw the ball. So we’re (the cornerbacks) going be out there alone, but not for long. Especially with the people we have blitzing and pass rushing over the edge.”
Time to win: In Haden’s three seasons, the Browns have gone 5-11, 4-12 and 5-11. He knows he’s not going to be “recognized” unless his team wins more games.
He likes the new defense. He likes what he sees of the Turner and Rob Chudzinski offense.
“He attacks deep. He goes up top,” Haden said of Turner. “With Josh (Gordon), Greg (Little) and (Davone) Bess, players that can make plays with the ball in their hands, it’s going to be good. (Brandon) Weeden has the cannon to throw it out there. He’s shown it to me at times.”
Haden said he is not concerned at this time about the other starting cornerback spot left vacant by the club’s decision not to re-sign Sheldon Brown. Through the OTAs, Buster Skrine is holding down the No. 1 spot, though free agent pickup Chris Owens played with the first team on Thursday. Rookie third-round draft pick Leon McFadden is in the mix, too.
“You have to wait till we get to training camp (to gauge the defense),” Haden said. “Right now, we’re playing flag football. We’re playing touch football. And you can’t really tell who’s doing what because we’re trying to keep people off the ground, we’re not tackling, we’re not playing real ball. When you put the pads on, that separates a lot.”
This year when Haden puts the pads on, he wants to leave them on. He has to for this team to have a chance to win and for him to earn the elite tag.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
Return to: Grossi Stories Blog