By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Super Joe?: Joe Haden told me he hopes the Browns introduce their defense to the home crowd Sunday. He wants his name announced so he can feel the love from HadenNation.
But will he hear love? Or will he hear the anger of a fan base holding him responsible for four of the team’s five straight losses?
Haden is the team’s best cornerback, of course, and one of the top three defensive players. I would rank the Browns defensive players this way: 1. Tackle Ahtyba Rubin. 2. Haden. 3. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
On Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Haden might be the only one of the three in uniform. Rubin (calf) and Jackson (concussion) did not practice on Wednesday.
In Haden’s absence, caused by a four-game suspension for using Adderall – a stimulant on the list of NFL banned substances – the Browns gave up 10 touchdown passes and an average of 275 yards passing.
So will the fans boo or cheer him on his return?
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Haden said. “I’m a young man (23 years old) and I fessed up to mine, took accountability, took the punishment.”
He paid a hefty price ($1.356 million), plus disqualification from the Pro Bowl, which he truly aspired to make in his third NFL season.
“I just honestly want to get it past me,” Haden said.
He can take a large step toward that end by playing the best game of his career against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green.
Chasing A.J.: Haden’s suspension began in Week 2, when the Browns played the Bengals in Cincinnati. Green didn’t kill the Browns that day (seven catches, 58 yards, one TD). But Haden’s absence had a domino effect on the secondary that resulted in three Andy Dalton TD passes in all.
Green had the big plays a year ago in Cincinnati’s two wins. He benefitted from the quick snap by substitute QB Bruce Gradkowski and hauled in a 41-yard TD throw in the fourth quarter that sealed the Bengals’ triumph in the 2011 season opener. In the second game in Cincinnati, Green plucked a Dalton pass from the sky over Haden in the middle of the field and ran to the Bengals’ 2-yard line – a 51-yard big-time play -- to set up Mike Nugent’s game-winning field goal.
“I definitely feel like (I owe him one),” Haden said. “I honestly put him with the top – no, at the top -- of the receivers I’ve played against. Because he does a little bit of everything. I’ve played against Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson. I like A.J. (ahead of them).”
Dalton said on Wednesday, “Joe’s a great player. We figure he’s going to be matched up with A.J. the whole day. You just have to understand the type of player he is. We’re still gonna take our chances. We don’t feel their scheme is going to change too much.”
Start the payback: Haden’s return coincides with the loss of his replacement, Dimitri Patterson, to an ankle injury. So the Browns will still suffer in the secondary – the problem area on defense all year.
Patterson’s original role of covering the slot receiver – in Cincinnati’s case, the slippery Andrew Hawkins – probably will fall to rookie Trevin Wade. Wade’s first NFL appearance came in the first Cincinnati game, and Hawkins beat him for a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown, on which Wade missed tackling the zig-zagging Hawkins two times.
But Haden’s return can’t be understated. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, “He’ll give them a lift emotionally and play-wise.”
Browns safety Ray Ventrone said, “We understand how good of a player Joe is. His ability enables us to do a lot of things on defense. Having him back in a week where we’re playing a pretty top-tier receiver, it’s comforting to everyone he’s back in the mix.”
I have maintained that Haden’s severe penalty did not fit the crime. He has not denied that he used Adderall to stay up and party in Las Vegas on one of his last days of vacation before training camp started in late July. A league bag man showed up and demanded a urine sample. Busted.
He did not drive drunk and imperil lives, or use crack cocaine, or get involved in some violent altercation in a bar. He didn’t use Adderall to give himself a competitive edge on the field. He partied on his own time and paid a huge price.
Now it’s time to repay his teammates.
“I have the sense he really is sorry,” Ventrone said.
I have the feeling Haden will string together 11 of his best games, starting Sunday against Green. He owes his teammates that.
|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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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