Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Extra Points …
One of these days (or nights): The prime-time lights of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football series are a siren call to Joe Haden.
He’s playing the best cornerback of his career, coming off what he himself considers his best game of the season against Cincinnati’s A.J Green.
Everybody in the league will be watching Thursday night when the Browns play host to the Buffalo Bills. He can’t help but think: Could this be the game?
“I’ve been a corner now seven years (counting four seasons at University of Florida) and I still don’t have a pick 6,” Haden said. “At Florida, I got down to the 1-yard line and got tackled by Mohamed Massaquoi (the future Browns receiver from Georgia). So I still don’t have a pick 6 in my career.
“I’ve got plenty of picks but no sixes.”
Haden didn’t play cornerback until he got to Florida and started as a freshman. In 40 games for the Gators, he had eight interceptions. The return he spoke of covered 88 yards.
His rookie year with the Browns, Haden had six interceptions. His first one in the NFL was returned 62 yards to the Steelers’ 20-yard line. Last year, he returned a Michael Vick interception 50 yards to the Eagles’ 22.
He has nine interceptions in 45 NFL games. No pick 6’s.
He dreams of celebrating a touchdown and promises to be ready when it happens.
“It’s seven years in the making,” Haden said. “The dances change with new music coming out, so I’ve just been waiting.”
Chud liked EJ: Before the Browns settled on LSU linebacker Barkevious Mingo as their top draft pick, they considered Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel for the No. 6 overall pick. Manuel comes to town Thursday with a 2-2 record following a 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Manuel is the first NFL QB to defeat a defending Super Bowl champion in his rookie season.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski spent so much time scouting Manuel that Manuel thought there was a chance he would wind up in Cleveland.
“I did,” Manuel said Tuesday. “I thought they may be interested in taking a quarterback. Obviously, they didn’t.”
Chudzinski said, “it was tough” to pass up Manuel.
“He was very impressive on his visit,” the coach said. “There was a chance, a couple times, to spend time with him. We went down and worked him out in Florida State. He’s a guy who has a bright future. You knew it then. Those are always tough decisions. We just felt like where we were at, picking Barkevious was our best choice at that time.”
Return of the Wildcat: The Browns weren’t overly surprised when the coaches introduced a Wildcat look during the practice week for the Cincinnati game.
Left tackle Joe Thomas said, “We’ve got a lot of plays. You haven’t seen half of them. I can tell you that.”
But what was surprising even to them was the selection of MarQueis Gray as the quarterback in the formation.
“I guess a lot of guys didn’t know he was a quarterback in college because he’s playing tight end,” Thomas said.
Gray was claimed in that flurry of acquisitions after final roster cuts. He is 6-4 and 250 pounds and listed as the third tight end. But he was a top-five rated high school quarterback – the year Terrelle Pryor was No. 1 in the nation – and started a full season as a read-option quarterback his junior year at University of Minnesota.
Gray also played wide receiver at Minnesota. At the NFL combine in February, he was assigned to work out with the tight ends. His 4.73 40 time probably caused him to go undrafted. He spent the summer in the 49ers’ training camp, and was cut in September.
In the first quarter against the Bengals, the Browns sprung the formation with Brian Hoyer split wide left as a receiver. The Bengals promptly called a timeout, after which the Browns returned with a normal formation. They did use the Wildcat one time later in the game. Gray handed off to Bobby Rainey for a 3-yard run.
“I think it can cause difficulties for a defense playing against it. You can get some plays out of it,” Chudzinski said.
Chudzinski said Gray’s future is at tight end, but he and coordinator Norv Turner will always look at ways to exploit a player with multiple talents.
Gray’s background and athletic ability give the Browns the option also of using him as an emergency quarterback – if they had to -- if they ever decided to keep just two quarterbacks on the roster. Not that anything’s up with that, mind you.
|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
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