BEREA– There’s an old cliche about the difference a year makes.
That saying could not be more true for Joe Haden.
During training camp of 2012, there were rumors abounding that Haden would be suspended by the NFL for substance abuse. The rumors were confirmed after the opening loss to the Eagles and Haden sat out the next four games due to a league imposed sanction for performance enhancing substances.
“It was a humbling experience and one of the lowest points in my life,” Haden admitted after Friday’s practice.
Fast forward to the present and Haden is a newlywed and poised to have a breakout year.
“Everything seems to be on the up and up and things are turning out for the better.”
Early in the team scrimmage Friday, Haden stepped in front of Josh Gordon and intercepted Brandon Weeden’s pass and streaked down the sideline for a touchdown.
“I just jumped the route.”
Besides the suspension last year, Haden missed another game with an oblique injury later in the season. All in all, the Browns lost all five games when Haden didn’t play. Despite only playing in 11 games he still finished with 51 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes broken up. His interception tied for the team lead.
Chudzinski said he wasn’t worried about the past when he started with the Browns.
“I took the approach, from early on, that everybody has a fresh start,” he said. “Regardless of what was said of him, I was not going to listen to any of that. I wanted, for us and our staff, to make our own conclusions on evaluating guys. Joe is a guy that I do feel is critical to be a leader and show the maturity level that you would expect out of a guy that is coming into the time of his career that he is at.”
Haden said he appreciates the clean slate.
“The coaches respect my play and said it’s all about my play on the field,” he said. “It’s a fresh start with coach Chud and he told me he wants me to be a leader.”
Chudzinski is counting on Haden being one of the leaders, not only on defense, but on the team.
“Joe has really stepped up as a leader, has stepped up as a professional,” he said. “Joe wants to focus on improving and being more consistent and I see that in his approach. I think he has done a great job in that way and I’m expecting him to keep getting better and better.”
Haden really likes the defense that Horton is employing.
“He just said to go out and do your thing,” he said. “He believes in me, coach Chud believes in me. It really feels good.
“I’m comfortable (in the defense) and when you’re confident you can perform well.”
Chudzinski thinks the sky is the limit for Haden.
“He has potential and that means he has ability,” he said. “If he continues to develop and work on his knowledge, details and drive, then I think he has the ability to fill that potential.”
Haden has expectations of being an elite cornerback in the NFL, which by his definition is a top five player. He was asked if he feels he’s an elite cornerback and if he will make the Pro Bowl this year.
“The goal is to be one of the best at your position,” he said. “I have high expectations that I put on myself, but we have to win some games first.”
Second-year cornerback turned safety Johnson Bademosi is impressed with what he’s seen of Haden, day in and day out.
“He’s playing at a high level, a Pro Bowl level.”
Chudzinski wouldn’t state that yet but did say this.
“I think Joe’s best days are ahead of him if he continues to work.”
Nelson Back: WR David Nelson started practicing after being on Physically Unable to Perform (PUP)/Active list. Nelson missed virtually all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL in the season opener for the Bills last season. He was signed by the Browns as an unrestricted free agent.
“David Nelson worked back in today and got some individual work,” he said. “We will evaluate him and continue to evaluate him. Hopefully we’ll get to upgrade him as we are going.”
Nelson didn’t take part in 11-on-11 drills, but did take part in the individual drills.
Secondary’s Day: The defensive backs were getting their hands on a lot of passes. Besides a pick six by Haden, CB Buster Skrine also got in on the action and intercepted QB Jason Campbell for a score. DB Johnson Bademosi had two passes that he got his hands on but couldn’t hang on to the ball. QB Brian Hoyer threw both passes on back-to-back plays, the first intended for WR Cordell Roberson would’ve been a touchdown if Bademosi would’ve hung on to the ball.
Chudzinski was asked if it was more of the quarterbacks having a bad day or the secondary a good day.
“Whatever it was, we won’t do that (Saturday) offensively,” he said with a laugh. “The secondary made some real nice plays and breaks on the ball.”
Taylor, Davis Still Out: DL Phil Taylor sat out the second day in a row with a calf injury, but Chudzinski insists he is day-to-day.
“We’re expecting him back in the next few days from all the reports I’ve seen.”
TE Kellen Davis also sat out with a knee strain and is listed as day-to-day. Rookie OL Chris Faulk remains on PUP/Active and was on the stationary bike.
OL Oniel Cousins left practice with a trainer with an ankle injury.
Hitting Time: The Browns will put on the pads for the first time on Saturday and Chudzinski is looking forward to it.
“We’re going to hit,” he said. “We won’t be tackling to the ground. That doesn’t mean that nobody will be on the ground, but we are not tackling to the ground. We’ll hit. We’ll block. We’ll thud up and wrap up. It’ll be good work for us. It’s about time to get the pads.”
No Tweeting for Chud: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin took to Twitter and Chudzinski was asked if he was going to open an account, as well.
“I’m not a real technology guy,” he said. “I wouldn’t even know how to get started on that. I have a hard enough time with my cell phone.”