By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns cornerback Joe Haden conceded he wouldn’t mind if All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson rested his bothersome right knee Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit FirstEnergy Stadium.
The injury forced Johnson to sit out the Lions’ 22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers last weekend, and Johnson did not practice Wednesday. Whether he plays in Week 6 could greatly affect the Browns’ chances of extending their three-game winning streak.
“The team and the Browns fans might not want him out there, and I might not want him out there, too,” Haden said Wednesday before practice. “But if he plays, it’s always good to go against the best. But if he doesn’t, it’s a big help and a big knock for the [Lions’] offense.”
Haden said he’s preparing as if Johnson will play.
“I’m certainly not going to tell you guys that,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said during a conference call Wednesday.
But Lions running back Reggie Bush told reporters he and his teammates are preparing as if Johnson won’t play.
“Obviously, it’s definitely a blow to our team to not have Calvin,” Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said Wednesday during a conference call. “But I think we have the opportunity with the type of guys we do have on this team to still be successful in our own right.”
Haden has never faced the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson, but he considers him the best receiver in the NFL, a notch above A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Just look at the dude,” Haden said of Johnson. “He’s huge. He’s big, strong and fast. There’s nothing really else that you have to say about him. He’s so good.”
In Haden’s opinion, life without Johnson, otherwise known as “Megatron,” is much different for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Co.
“You can tell if you’re missing a player like him, a dynamic player,” Haden said. “[For] Stafford, it’s like his comfort blanket basically. So if he’s missing him, it’s going to be a completely different offense. But with him, you’ve always got to know where he’s at, they move him around and they just try to get him the ball any way possible.”
Haden desperately wants to make his first trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. On Oct. 1, he even tweeted a picture of the Hawaiian Islands that he has hanging in his locker to remind him about his goal. Some fans gave Haden grief about the tweet because they viewed it as selfish.
“Of course, I think it’s OK,” Haden said. “That’s just an individual goal of mine. It has nothing to do with me not thinking about the squad or anything. It’s just something like, ‘Hey, it’d be nice if I went to the Pro Bowl.’ That’s it.”
If Haden faces Johnson and shuts him down, it would certainly help his case.
“I want to be one of those corners that can be able to go up against the Calvins, go up against the A.J.s, and not be [asked], ‘Oh Joe, why are you so worried about him?’ [I’d rather people say], ‘Calvin, you have to go against Joe this week.’ Maybe one of these days it’s going to be like that, but I’ll just go and grind and make sure I play one of my best games.”
The legal woes of the Browns start at the top with the federal probe into the fuel rebate fraud scheme that was used by Pilot Flying J, the family business of owner Jimmy Haslam.
ESPN.com legal analyst Lester Munson outlined the case investigators are building against Pilot Flying J in an in-depth story published Wednesday. Three unnamed lawyers involved in the investigation told ESPN.com that they expect Haslam to be charged.
At least 11 former Pilot Flying J employees are cooperating with the FBI and offering evidence, according to the report. Seven of them have entered guilty pleas to fraud charges, and the other four have obtained immunity from prosecution in return for their cooperation.
Meanwhile, police said Browns director of player personnel Jon Sandusky was cooperative but refused to take a blood test when he was arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of drunken driving in Fargo, N.D., the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Under a new North Dakota law, anyone who refuses to take a chemical test is considered guilty of drunken driving, Fargo attorney Mark Friese, a former police officer who specializes in DUI cases, told the AP.
The AP also reported Wednesday that unsealed indictments state that a grand jury indicted agent Terry Watson with 13 counts of providing cash or travel accommodations to former University of North Carolina players — Browns wide receiver Greg Little, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Marvin Austin and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn — valued at nearly $24,000 in an effort to sign them. Watson also faces one count of obstruction of justice for not providing records sought by authorities.
Nine of the charges focus on Little, according to the report. The indictment states that Watson provided $20,457.24 in benefits to Little, a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, between May and October of 2010.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski tried his best to discount recent reports that the organization has explored trading wide receiver Josh Gordon.
“We are not shopping Josh, and we have no plans of trading Josh,” Chudzinski said Wednesday.
ESPN reported the Browns have talked to the San Francisco 49ers about trading Gordon but that a deal is unlikely. NFL Network reported that the Browns have talked to teams, including the 49ers, about dealing Gordon and would like a second-round draft pick in return.
The NFL trading deadline is Oct. 29.
Chudzinski said he is comfortable with having only two quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, but the team will continue to look for a third because Brian Hoyer is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Undrafted rookie tight end MarQueis Gray is the team’s emergency third-string quarterback.
“We’ve been looking at our options,” Chudzinski said. “Our personnel department has been working hard on that. We’ll go through and we’ll continue to look at them. I feel comfortable from a standpoint of on game day you’re dressing two anyhow, and that’s what we’ve done. We have an emergency third that would be available, so we can take our time and do what’s best for our team at this point.”
Outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard (sprained left knee) and Quentin Groves (high-ankle sprain) and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya (concussion) returned to practice Wednesday. Sheard hasn’t played since Sept. 22 and Groves since Sept. 15. “I’ll be ready [Sunday] if my number’s called,” Groves said. “And if it isn’t, then, hey, I’ll be ready next week.” Ogbonnaya was hurt Thursday night. … Defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) did not practice. He suffered the injury Sept. 22. … If no team volunteers to be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the NFL passed a measure Tuesday that will allow it to pick one that doesn’t have a new head coach, hasn’t reached the playoffs in one of the previous two seasons or hasn’t appeared on the show in the previous 10 years. The league also announced the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders will host games at London’s Wembley Stadium next year. The opponents have yet to be announced. The Browns are set to have “road” games against the Jaguars and Falcons, so they could play in London next season. “I really haven’t had a chance to think much about those things,” Chudzinski said. “I’m not a big fan of the Hard Knocks, but that’s something to think about, and we’ll talk about it in the offseason. Right now, I’m really just focused on Detroit.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.