BEREA, Ohio -- For Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, the last two seasons have been frustrating because of injuries that robbed him of the opportunity to play in a combined 14 games in 2015 and 2016.
However, Haden is back healthy this year and helping to lead a young secondary. And after watching Haden go through the offseason program, as well as the first week of training camp and the annual Orange and Brown Scrimmage, Browns coach Hue Jackson is convinced that his two-time Pro Bowl defender is back at the top of his game.
“It is way different,” Jackson said. “He is stronger. He is bigger. I think Joe has put on seven, eight pounds. He is running extremely well. We have done a great job, our medical staff coming up with a plan. As I have mentioned to you guys all earlier before we started of just making sure that we keep all of our guys pretty healthy.
“He is one of those guys. I think his body needs that rest. I think he has handled that well. When he has practiced, he has practiced extremely well. When he has played in competitive situations, he has done that very well. It is good for Joe.”
The 2015 regular season was a particularly frustrating one for Haden because of its premature ending due to his suffering two concussions in the period of a month.
Haden was concussed for the first time in a 33-30 overtime win at the Baltimore Ravens on October 11. Then, after missing two games from that first concussion, Haden suffered his second head injury in a 34-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on November 1.
But now that he is healthy, Haden is making a difference in the secondary by intercepting and deflecting many of the passes that have come his way.
“Just trying to be locked in and just trying to play my coverage,” Haden said. “When I am in good shape, make sure to get my head around and create turnovers -- that is the biggest thing. Just trying to get the ball back to the offense. I feel like with my playmaking skills, when I know I am in good shape, (I am) able to get my head around.”
By getting to as many passes as he has since the start of training camp, Haden believes that his productivity is making both sides of the football better for the 2017 regular season, which gets underway against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, September 10.
“We are just competing and trying to get them better,” Haden said of the wide receivers. “The biggest thing with us is if we have man-to-man calls, Coach says, 'If it is man-to-man, don’t let him catch it,' or 'If it is zone, make them check it down.' It is everybody doing their own part. Just working, grinding and trying to get them better. It is just tough ball. When we are playing man-to-man, we are not trying to let them get the ball.”