The Associated Press
BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden has heard the whispers. After two injury-plagued years, he plans on silencing them.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection out of the University of Florida played most of last season with torn left and right groin muscles, but is healthy — and motivated by criticism — as he enters his eighth NFL campaign.
“I love the game so much, it’s tough to hear people from the outside looking in, saying, ‘Man, Joe, he’s hurt. He can never stay healthy,'” Haden said Saturday. “I’m not trying to be hurt. I’m not trying to not be out there helping my guys.
“Last year was probably the toughest year I’ve had, but it all comes around. God works in mysterious ways.”
The low point of Haden’s pro career coincided with the franchise hitting rock bottom. Cleveland lost its first 14 games — dropping 17 in a row overall, dating back to 2015 — and finished with an NFL-worst 1-15 record.
Individually, the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder allowed six touchdowns in man-to-man pass coverage and only had one interception in the final 14 weeks. The latter span began when he tore both sides of his groin, yet willed himself to keep playing.
“Being out there and not being myself was tougher than not being out there at all,” said Haden, who missed 10 games in 2015 as a result of concussions. “I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t go full speed. Nobody really knew that. They were all like, ‘Joe is playing, so he’s ready to go.'”
Haden refused to use the significant injuries as an excuse and still won’t, even though both tears required offseason surgery. His peers recognized his competitiveness by voting him a Pro Bowl alternate, which he admits was extra gratifying, given the circumstances.
“You control what you can control,” Haden said. “That’s why I worked my tail off after my surgery to get ready. When I am in good shape, I make sure to get my head around (in coverage) and create turnovers. I feel like with my playmaking skills, I can do that.”
Haden has shown flashes of his younger self in the first nine days of camp, highlighted by a pass breakup in the end zone Friday during the annual “Orange and Brown Scrimmage” at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The 28 year old stayed with Rannell Hall during a double-move route, then positioned himself between the wide receiver and quarterback Brock Osweiler to bat away the ball just inside the front right pylon.
Browns coach Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were visibly pleased with their top cover man’s execution.
“Watching Joe Haden compete and play and tackle and break up passes, he looked like the old Joe to me,” Jackson said. “It is way different (from last year).
“The most important thing to me is when he has practiced, he has practiced extremely well. And when he has played in competitive situations, he has done that very well. It is good for Joe.”