By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns cornerback Joe Haden continued to sit out practice Thursday with a hip pointer he suffered this past weekend in a 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears, but he worked out on a stationary bike, closely watched a defensive walk through and had enough pep in his step to suggest he might try to push through the pain Sunday against the New York Jets.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton expects there to be a game-time decision about whether Haden will play when the Browns (4-10) visit the Jets (6-8). Haden, the Browns’ No. 1 cornerback, would likely need to practice today to have a shot at being ready.
Jets coach Rex Ryan would consider his team lucky if Haden is sidelined.
“That would be a break for sure because I think Joe Haden is a rare guy,” Ryan said during a conference call. “I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great corners. He is definitely an impact player, absolutely outstanding, obviously a Pro Bowl corner. That would be big for us. He can match up, lock down your top receiver. Nothing against Joe, I hope he’s healthy, but if it’s all up to me, a Christmas list, he should probably take another week off.”
Predictably, Horton has feelings to the contrary.
“Knowing Joe, if he can play, I think he will,” Horton said. “He’s been an integral part of our defense. We definitely need him to play and want him to play. Obviously, it’s a health and safety concern, but we’re doing everything we can, I know he is, to be ready to play. So we’ll just wait and give him as much rest and rehab time as necessary to get him out there.”
Haden last spoke to reporters Monday. He said his bruised hip was painful, but he expressed a desire to bounce back and redeem himself after allowing a touchdown in each of the past four games. Haden allowed only one touchdown in the first 10 games and seemed to be a lock for the first Pro Bowl selection of his career until the recent letdowns.
If Haden can’t push through the injury, rookie Leon McFadden is expected to start in his place. He has been called for pass-interference penalties in each of the past two games, both in the fourth quarter. Horton didn’t agree with the first one against the New England Patriots, but he thought the officials made the right call against the Bears.
“He’s definitely the hot corner, if you will, because as a rookie, they’re going to come after you,” Horton said. “So I’m sure he’s aware that this week in New York, he’ll probably have a little bit of target on him because of being a rookie and having two penalties the last two weeks.”
In the event Haden is out, Julian Posey would fill the role of the No. 3 corner, and starter Buster Skrine would cover the slot in the nickel package.
“He’s only made, technique-wise, one mistake while he’s been in, which is outstanding,” Horton said of Posey. “He’s our third guy in right now, and he’s held his own.”
No retirement plans
Running back Willis McGahee, 32, is in his 11th NFL season, and he returned to practice this week after suffering a concussion Dec. 8 against the Patriots.
But McGahee doesn’t sound as if he’s considering retirement yet.
“I’d love to be back here next year,” said McGahee, who’s approaching the end of his one-year contract with the Browns.
Even though Edwin Baker showed promise this past weekend in McGahee’s absence by running for 38 yards on eight carries (4.8 average), offensive coordinator Norv Turner sounds as if he’s also planning to use McGahee against the Jets.
“I think we all, all of you and all of us, like the way Baker played, and he’s fresh and he’s eager and excited,” Turner said. “I think if we can get him some opportunities, it will help us. Willis has been awfully good in short yardage and in those critical situations. He’s really played well in the fourth quarter when we have either been trying to score to get a lead or keep a lead. I think it will be good to get Willis back.”
The Browns had 17 carries for 93 yards (5.5 average) against the Bears, leaving many to wonder why they didn’t opt to run more. Turner defended his decision to call 39 passing plays in blustery conditions by taking a shot at the Browns’ 27th-ranked rushing attack (84.9 yards per game).
“I think the way that game went, we’re doing what gives our team the best chance,” Turner said. “Anyone who’s seen the 13 games before that, I don’t think would sit there and think, ‘We should be running the ball more.’ ”
Turner also pinned blame on quarterback Jason Campbell for standout wide receiver Josh Gordon finishing with only three catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought there was opportunities for Josh,” Turner said. “I thought he could have easily had six or seven catches for another 150 yards. We were just off. We missed him a couple of times, and we didn’t throw to him a couple of times when he had chances to make big plays.”
Turner believes undrafted rookie MarQueis Gray has a bright future with the Browns after transitioning from a quarterback at the University of Minnesota to a tight end in the NFL.
“Usually guys that make a position change, it’s two or three years, particularly if you move from quarterback to another position, before they can really feel comfortable playing,” Turner said. “I think he’s way ahead of that. I think he’s made great strides, and I expect him to be a guy that’s got a real good future with our team, with our organization, because he does a lot of things well. I think because he hasn’t played as a receiver, whether a tight end or a move guy or a slot guy, he can improve real fast.”
Mum on candidacy
Horton declined to discuss his head-coaching aspirations. He interviewed with the Browns and Arizona Cardinals for head-coaching jobs in the offseason and is expected to be a hot candidate again in 2014.
“I think out of respect for New York, for the Cleveland Browns, I think that’s probably a question that should be broached at the end of the year,” Horton said. “It has no bearing on anything. It doesn’t help us prepare for New York, so if I could table that until the end of the year out of respect.”
In addition to Haden, tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), wide receiver Davone Bess (illness), left guard John Greco (sprained medial collateral ligament in right knee) and tight end Andre Smith (strained calf) did not practice. Linebacker Eric Martin (illness) returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.