NORTH ROYALTON: Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden is warning people to stop underestimating.
Stop underestimating the Browns. Stop underestimating Brian Hoyer in his battle with rookie Johnny Manziel for the starting quarterback job. Stop underestimating the secondary.
Those were the main messages Haden delivered in an interview Monday with the Beacon Journal after he finished a video and photo shoot with Unequal Technologies at the Royalton Fieldhouse. Haden signed a multiyear endorsement agreement with Unequal and will wear the company’s girdle for hip, thigh and tailbone protection as well as its padding designed for helmets this coming season.
Below are the highlights from Haden’s question-and-answer session.
Q: After LeBron James announced he would return to the Cavaliers last week, you told NFL Network it would be a “tight fight” between the Browns and the Cavs regarding who’ll win a title first. Why do you think the Browns could finally be on the verge of a turnaround?
A: “I really like our coaching staff. I really like the management. Our defense is looking so solid, super solid. Our offense is coming along. I just think we have a lot of players that are going to be able to step up this year, especially with our new offense. With Hoyer being healthy [after suffering a torn ACL last season] and with Manziel, we can really have a quarterback competition, a legit one, when you have a backup that’s [worthy of being] a starter. I think having those two dudes on the offense is just going to help us out tremendously. We’re really not that far. We just have to finish games that are close at the end. With all these changes, we’re not the same squad. It’s a totally different team.”
Q: A lot of people in the national media seem to think there’s no way Hoyer is going to beat Manziel. Do you see it differently?
A: “People aren’t even giving Hoyer a chance. If he wouldn’t have gotten hurt last year, it could’ve been totally different. He’s a really, really, really solid quarterback. He plays smart. He’s not going to do anything to lose the games for you. He plays like a professional. He controls the game. You can call it a game manager, but he’s really good at what he does. He makes sure he gets the ball out of his hand fast, he controls the offense and he’s a leader. So that’s what you need at the quarterback position, and I think with him being there and then with Johnny coming in with his talent and everything, you could want no more but a fight like that for the quarterback [position].”
Q: So you think the Browns, who went 4-12 last season, would’ve won more games if Hoyer didn’t get hurt?
A: “Definitely, because he was managing, he was holding it down for us. When he went down, it was a big blow. You’ve got to move on because one man, he can’t make the whole squad, but he damn sure helped us.”
Q: Can you see Hoyer as the starter?
A: “I can. I can. The thing is we’re going to find out during training camp because both of those dudes are solid guys. Hoyer, he’s not going to just give the spot away. Johnny’s going to come in and try to win it.”
Q: Manziel’s partying is a hot topic. But is it a concern?
A: “No, it’s not a concern. It’s starting to get annoying because people won’t leave him alone. I’m out partying, too. They’re not taking pictures of me every day. If they did that every time I went out, they would be having the same thing about me in the paper.”
Q: Last month, you told WKNR (850-AM) that Manziel needs a “phone valet.” Weren’t you trying to tell him to be more low key?
A: “I was just kind of joking with the phone valet. He’s got his homeboys. You’ve got to tell them just don’t put [the pictures] up [online]. The thing is, quarterbacks are just looked at in a different light. He’s not doing anything bad. He’s not breaking any laws or anything, but people are going to keep talking about it regardless.”
Q: Manziel and LeBron are business partners. Do you think LeBron can help Manziel manage himself off the field because he knows what it’s like to receive so much attention?
A: “I don’t really think Johnny has a problem. LeBron being in Cleveland, because he and LeBron are really close, that’s cool, but I’ll say at the same time when the season comes along and when we’re in training camp, you don’t really have time [to party]. Right now, he’s enjoying himself and doing the same thing everybody else did that got drafted. He’s going to be fine.”
Q: Does embattled All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon have the support of the team?
A: “Yeah, definitely. He has the support of the team. Everybody loves J.G. You just hope everything is going to be fine. You just keep praying, just keep him in our prayers.”
Q: Have you been able to get in touch with him recently?
A: “I’ve just been trying to tell him I’m praying for him. Right now, I just want to let him get himself together, just give him a little bit of time.”
Q: The front seven was labeled the strength of the defense last season. Is the secondary ready to make a name for itself?
A: “I honestly think our secondary is going to be a very, very, very strong point. I think [free safety] Tashaun Gipson does not get enough credit for how good he really is. He’s a really, really good ballplayer. I think he should be a Pro Bowl player this year for sure. With [strong safety Donte] Whitner, he’s so smart, he knows the game and he’s used to winning. I’m glad he came from San Francisco, where they were winning and he was used to it, so he can bring us that, ‘Let’s get it, let’s win, why not us?’ attitude to the team. And then [rookie] Justin Gilbert, he’s coming in as athletic as I don’t know what, and Buster [Skrine], he’s balling out, too, because everybody at corner is fighting for jobs also. We’ve got a really, really talented room.”
Q: What are your expectations for yourself coming off your first Pro Bowl season?
A: “I want to be that guy in the league. I love Patrick Peterson. I love Richard Sherman. I love Darrelle Revis. I want to be the one in that group. I’m just trying to be the best corner in the league.”
Q: Why will you wear Unequal’s protective gear this upcoming season?
A: “I just want to make sure after I’m done with the league, I can still do everything. I want to play around with my kids. I want to be able to coach them up as long as my health is OK. This product is going to help you out and make sure that you’re going to be OK after you’re finished playing.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.