BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – On the field, 2016 is a season that Joe Haden would like to forget.
And it’s not just because the Browns went through their worst season ever finishing 1-15 either.
“Last year was probably the toughest year I’ve ever had,” Haden said.
Haden is coming off a season that saw him play through not 1 but 2 groin injuries that required surgery as soon as it ended in January.
“It was hard because I was on the field and couldn’t do exactly what I wanted to do,” Haden said. “[I] couldn’t open up, couldn’t run full speed and when you’re covering those dudes, no one really knows that.
“Being out there and not being myself was tougher than not being out there at all.”
Haden, who has missed 14 games over the last 2 seasons due to various injuries, has heard the criticism from fans, especially on social media.
“It’s tough from the outside looking in to see [people say], ‘Man look at Joe. He’s hurt. He can never stay healthy.’ I’m not trying to get hurt,” Haden said. “I’m not trying to not be out there helping my guys. It was tough for me, but understanding control what you can control, I worked my tail off after my surgery trying to get back to being 100 percent.”
According to ProFootballFocus, which the Browns use as part of their analytics evaluation, Haden was tied for sixth in the NFL for most touchdowns given up (6) and he allowed the 12th-most yards per coverage snap (1.48) last season.
Despite playing injured in 2016, Haden was named an alternate last season for the Pro Bowl and this year he’s looking to be named to his third outright.
Now that he’s healthy, Haden has shown flashes of his playmaking ability that saw him make back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2013 and 2014 in camp with broken up passes, interceptions and tackles.
“I can just feel that gear I need to get to, changing direction, being able to move, one-on-ones not feeling like I can’t open up,” Haden said. “Honestly, I’m feeling good to go. I’m just excited I’m able to play the way that I’ve been wanting to play.”
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the additions of Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers to compliment himself, Christian Kirksey, Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins have him excited about the possibilities this season.
“It is really good having [Peppers] there with Jamar and J Mack [DB Jason McCourty],” Haden said. “Just people who are football smart. Their football IQ is very high. Being able to have that is a big help for the secondary.”
Shortly after arriving, Williams put Haden on notice that his time with the Browns could be over soon but as the offseason wore on the two have developed a strong relationship.
“He believes in me,” Haden said. “He really does. He always just tells me, ‘Joe, this is going to be the best season you’ve had since you’ve been here.’
“His belief in me and I think he sees also how much this means to me, how hard I practice, how much I’m trying to stay in the young guys’ ears, how I’m trying to just be locked in, just trying to take the approach of a vet and get everybody to a certain level ’cause I really feel like we can have a nice defense.”
The Browns fielded one of the worst defenses in the league a year ago as they ranked near the bottom in just about every meaningful statistic – 31st overall defense, 30th in points allowed, 31st against the run and 21st against the pass. They also gave up the most touchdowns.
Haden expects a dramatic improvement this season.
Especially from himself.