By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns cornerback Joe Haden appears to be on track to bounce back from a hip pointer just in time to deliver a lump of coal to the New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan.
“I want to play, for sure,” Haden said.
Haden practiced on a limited basis Friday after sitting out the previous two days with the bruised hip he suffered this past weekend in a 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears. He said whether he plays when the Browns (4-10) visit the New York Jets (6-8) on Sunday would basically come down to a game-time decision, though he will definitely make the trip. Haden is listed as questionable on the injury report.
During a conference call Wednesday, Ryan said it “would be a break” for the Jets if Haden, the Browns’ No. 1 cornerback, sits out against an offense led by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who ranks second in the NFL with 21 interceptions.
Ryan even joked about Haden’s absence being an item on his “Christmas list.”
Told about Ryan’s wish after practice Friday, Haden laughed and said, “Man, I’m bad Santa.”
His teammates believe he’ll play the part of the Grinch.
“He’s only missed a few games since he’s been here, and he’s a trooper,” inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “To have him back, it gives us a lot of confidence on defense. He’s been playing his best football this year, and everyone is going to feed off of him being back definitely.”
Said strong safety T.J. Ward: “I think he’s going to play. I never counted him out, so emotionally I was never down. Anytime you have a player of Joe’s caliber out there, it obviously makes you better, but we’ll see on Sunday.”
Free safety Tashaun Gipson didn’t think Haden looked rusty during practice.
“Joe looked fine,” Gipson said. “Joe looked good. Joe looked like Joe. I just know he looked like the Joe Haden that I’ve been seeing Week 1 through 14.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Haden was knocked out of the game against the Bears with 4:16 left in the third quarter when offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod’s left knee collided with his left hip during a running play. He conceded that he was still in pain Friday when he participated in individual drills.
“It feels better,” said Haden, who has 58 tackles, four interceptions and 19 passes defensed this season. “It’s starting to feel better. I’m just trying to see what I can do coming out of my breaks. They don’t want me to do too much now. So we’re still just treating it. If I’m going to be able to go, then it’ll be for Sunday.”
Smith, a second-round pick (No. 39 overall) from West Virginia University, has struggled during his rookie season. The Browns got to know Smith during the pre-draft process, when coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner held a private workout with him in Florida.
Haden is confident he can cash in on Smith’s tendency to throw risky passes if he’s in the lineup. In the event Haden doesn’t play, rookie Leon McFadden would start in his place, Julian Posey would serve as the No. 3 cornerback and starter Buster Skrine would cover the slot in the nickel package.
“Especially playing corner, you want opportunities,” Haden said. “Twenty-one picks — I’m not trying to knock Geno at all, but that’s something that jumps out at you and makes you feel as a DB that you can get your hands on some of those balls.”
The Browns will need to pay attention to Smith’s ability to scramble.
“He’s using his legs very well when he gets in trouble,” Ward said. “He’s throwing some errant passes, but you can kind of expect that from a rookie. They try to keep it simple for him. He makes the simple plays when he needs to.”
The defense’s goal is to complicate things by playing mind games with quarterbacks, and Smith won’t be an exception.
“You can mess with a lot of quarterbacks,” Haden said. “It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been in the league. Sometimes you catch Tom [Brady]. Sometimes you catch Peyton [Manning], but you don’t catch them that much. The younger quarterbacks, you can definitely, with the movement of the secondary, everybody just moving at the same time, you can show him one thing, the whole defense is showing it to him, you can definitely give it away like that. You can definitely mix up your signals.”
Haden allowed just one touchdown pass in the first 10 games and appeared destined for the first Pro Bowl selection of his career. However, he has given up a touchdown pass in each of the past four games. He’s ranked seventh among cornerbacks in Pro Bowl fan voting, which runs through Dec. 26. Players and coaches will vote Dec. 23-26, so Haden will have one last shot to make a push in the polls if he faces the Jets.
“I haven’t been doing my best ball, but I’ve been playing pretty solid,” Haden said. “It’s not like I’m down on myself. I know what I can do. When I’m healthy, I’m going to put my best foot forward.”
The Browns are hoping he’ll do that Sunday.
“Anytime you’ve got somebody like Joe Haden, it will give you a lift,” Gipson said. “I think he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the game if not the best. Anytime you’ve got that guy on the field, it’s [vital] to the defense and the way we roll.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.