Haden thinking less, playing better

Thinking about what to do rather than do it plagued the Browns' first round pick during minicamp. Now, with training camp in full swing, Haden has a better grasp on the playbook and, in turn, has been quicker to react on the practice field.

At the conclusion of minicamp rookie cornerback Joe Haden admitted he was thinking too much about what he was supposed to do rather than just doing it, which caused him to react slowly.

Haden looked sharper during the first week of training camp while working with the second team defense.

"When we were off I was studying the playbook and trying to figure out what exactly was going on," Haden said. "As long as I know what to do, I can play to full speed. If you're a step behind you're going to be beaten. If you know what to do you can start anticipating and studying the offense instead of just studying what you're doing. I feel I did a whole lot better than when we were on the field in minicamp. I feel a lot faster."

Coach Eric Mangini was not surprised, nor disappointed, about Haden's less than spectacular minicamp. This is his fifth year as a head coach in the NFL, but he started coaching defensive backs in 2000, so he knows some players improve as a slower rate, even the good ones.

Mangini did not stay in touch with Haden during the six weeks between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp, but defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson did.

The program Haden studied during the break is accessed through the Internet. Coaches have found young players learn better that way than 60 years ago when Paul Brown would draw plays on a chalkboard.

"It's very specific information -- the installs and things we covered," Mangini said. "We also gave him a bunch of information to take with him. There are three or four different ways he was able to get hold of the information, to review the information, ask questions and things like that. I talked a little bit with him this morning and he said he really focused on the install."

Haden is competing with Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown for the two starting jobs at cornerback. Haden is working on the left side and right side, which means Wright's job as the starting left cornerback, a position he has held since 2007, might not be safe. Indeed, Wright has had some practice time at nickel back.

Brown, the nine-year veteran acquired from the Eagles in a trade in April, is Haden's mentor, even though it might cost Brown a starting job.

"He's teaching me, not holding anything back," Haden said. "The better man is going to win. There are no hard feelings. It's a business decision, just like contract things are business."

Haden is getting the razzing that usually goes to the suddenly mega-rich first-round draft pick. Teammates are calling him "Big Money," the nickname given to Gerard Warren, another Browns' first-round pick. Warren was the third overall pick in 2001. Warren is plugging away with the Patriots this summer.


--DB Gerard Lawson was charged with driving under the influence last Sunday. Coach Eric Mangini said he and Lawson spoke. An undrafted free agent who played in five games in 2009, Lawson has an Aug. 17 court date.

--Signing Benjamin Watson did not get the attention of some of the other moves made by the Browns in the offseason, but he is a definite upgrade over what they had last year at tight end, at least until Evan Moore was discovered and added to the practice squad halfway through the season.

"He's got a ton of experience," said Mangini, an assistant with the Patriots during Watson's first two years in New England. "Our systems aren't exactly alike but there's plenty of carry over. He's got familiarity.

"He's a really good person and he's a gifted athlete, so all those are pluses. Plus he's a guy that's been through a lot of winning, a lot of training camps, so that veteran experience helps in the locker room as well."

This is going to be a tight end-friendly offense if training camp is an indicator of what to expect.

Jake Delhomme, in his 12th year, and Watson in his seventh are working very well together. During the intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday Delhomme hit Watson in the back left corner of the end zone from the 5 for what proved to be the winning touchdown. They have been connecting in practice as well.

Robert Royal caught 11 passes and Moore caught 12 in 2009. The hope is Watson will add another dimension to the offense. Watson caught 29 passes for the Patriots last season.

"It's a positive thing," Mangini said of the rapport developing between Delhomme and Watson. "Having a tight end that can stretch the field puts more pressure on the defense. You can't shift coverage outside. You have to figure out how you want to deal with them. Do you want to cover with a safety? Do you want to cover him with a linebacker? Do you want to let it go to zone?

"There are a lot of questions that have to be answered when you are facing tight ends that can be productive."

--Mangini wants to come out of training camp with a backup center for Alex Mack. Billy Yates, rookie third-round draft choice Shawn Lauvao and Pat Murray have rotated in and out when Mack gets a breather.

"We've got quite a few guys working in those spots and one of them has to distinguish himself and show he can do that," Mangini said. "That will really help in terms of making the team and being on the 45 (game-day roster."

Fraley and Rex Hadnot could back up Mack last season, but both are gone.

--Every home game since the Browns returned in 1999 has been sold out in time for the TV blackout to be lifted. Four games are sold out this year -- vs. Kansas City on Sept. 19, vs. Cincinnati on Oct. 3, vs. Atlanta on Oct. 10 and vs. Pittsburgh on Jan. 2, the final game of the year.

--No one in the media is keeping official numbers, but fewer players are running laps so far.  That doesn't mean Mangini is getting softer. It means mistakes have been few. Players are made to run a lap for committing a penalty or putting the ball on the ground.

"Guys have stayed onsides more and kept the ball off the ground more and that's a good thing," Mangini said. "Nobody's looking to have anybody run laps unless it's part of conditioning."

--The Browns refrain from live tackling in practice for the obvious reason they want to cut down on injury risks. Even the intrasquad scrimmage Saturday was controlled contact.

But on an evening practice Aug. 4 Mangini did turn them loose on a goal line drill. The first-team offense had three cracks from the 2 and was stopped each time. First Jake Delhomme tried to run when his receivers were covered. Next Jerome Harrison was stuffed on an inside run. Delhomme's pass on third down was intercepted by Chris Gocong. Each time the defensive players waiting their turn cheered louder from their spot behind the end line.

The second-team offense scored twice against the second defense. James Davis scored on a run around left end and Seneca Wallace hit tight end Evan Moore on a fade. On third down rookie Joe Haden broke up a pass to Moore.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The people that are new to this system came in and adjusted relatively fast. We hit training camp full speed. We didn't have to have any extra meetings. Guys knew what we had to do out of the gate." -- Browns linebacker David Bowens


Browns punter Dave Zastudil is trying to beat the clock and recover from patellar tendon surgery on his right leg so he can be ready for the season opener on Sept. 12 in Tampa, but he might not make it.

Zastudil left the team complex in Berea, Ohio, on Aug. 2 to have his knee checked by his personal doctor. He returned to town on the night of Aug. 5. He did not practice last Friday and was not on the field during the intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday. Mangini did not rule out ore surgery for Zastudil.

"I keep progressing," Zastudil said before visiting his doctor. "I come out to practice and work on technique things I need to work on to get better. I'm trying to be smart about it and make sure my (punting) volume doesn't get too high."

The surgery was to Zastudil's plant leg. He was sidelined last season with eight games left. He punted 49 times for a 44.7 average and landed 25 inside the 20. He didn't get hit; his right knee just wasn't giving him the support he needed to punt well. Reggie Hodges finished the season.

"I think it was just a freak thing that built over time and it was time I got it taken care of," Zastudil said. "Over time I just had some issues with the patellar tendon and I had to get surgery to help that tendon out. I've been rehabbing like crazy.

"All the pressure is on your plant leg. You're pushing off. It's like dunking a basketball. As long as you get it warmed up real good and keep your leg strong, that's the best way to keep that knee healthy."

Zastudil has punted 531 times in games and countless times in practice.

--DL Shaun Rogers will eventually be used at both end spots, but it will be a while before that happens; Rogers is on PUP recovering from a broken leg, and Mangini said Rogers isn't close to being cleared for practice.

--Ahtyba Rubin continues to improve at NT and is determined to hold onto the starting job after Rogers returns. Rubin hits hard in practice and impressed the coaches by chasing James Davis 50 yards downfield on a screen pass.

--Seneca Wallace completed 17 of 23 passes for 152 yards in the scrimmage. He was "sacked" five times, but since there was no live tackling a sack constituted a touch on the shoulder pads.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Chansi Stuckey vs. Bobby Engram to be the slot receiver. Stuckey has youth on his side, but Engram, 37, is not going to just fade away. He has become a mentor to Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Engram caught five passes for 23 yards for the White team in the Brown-White intrasquad scrimmage. Stuckey's yardage total was also 23 playing for the Brown team. He did it in two catches.

Other battle fronts: Now that Tony Pashos is over his bout with food poisoning his battle with John St. Clair to start at right tackle is on. The pair has alternated playing with the first team in practice ... James Davis and Chris Jennings are battling for what might be the final spot at running back. Davis has the early edge.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: S Abe Elam -- Elam has a lot to motivate him. He had to sign a one-year tender instead of the multi-year deal he wanted and he is determined to play so well in training camp and preseason that coaches won't pull him in nickel situations as they did last year. Elam helped himself in practice by intercepting a pass from Jake Delhomme at the goal line. Elam had another assignment on the play, but sniffed it out and stole the pass intended for Robert Royal.

ROOKIE WATCH: First-round cornerback Joe Haden broke up a pass in the end zone on a goal line drill. He returned a kick 22 yards in the scrimmage ... Second-round safety T.J. Ward says he learns by his mistakes. He was upset with himself for biting on a flea flicker in practice...A knee injury has prevented second-round running back Montario Hardesty from practicing...Third-round quarterback Colt McCoy is alternating with Brett Ratliff as the third and fourth quarterback. He threw two interceptions in the scrimmage, but one was on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. The other was returned by Brandon McDonald 40 yards for a touchdown...Third-round guard Shawn Lauvao is alternating with Floyd Womack at right guard ... Fifth-round safety Larry Asante is getting time with the second team ... Sixth-round wide receiver Carlton Mitchell has been inconsistent ... Sixth-round defensive end Clifton Geathers is adjusting to being an end in a 3-4 defense. He played the 4-3 in college.

The OBR Top Stories