The Browns actually received a bit of good news about their struggling defense from Friday’s 30-13 loss to the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third preseason game.
Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden gave a positive report after playing in his first game since Nov. 1. Coming off March 16 ankle surgery, Haden made his 2016 preseason debut.
“I felt pretty good, just being able to be out there with my teammates, live action, playing my game,” Haden, who missed 11 games last season because of two concussions and other injuries, said Friday. “I haven’t played since the Arizona game last season, so it’s been a while, and it just felt good being back out there.”
Haden conceded he still needs to get into better shape before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bucs’ no-huddle, hurry-up offense provided a wake-up call.
“I’ve got to do a little bit more with my wind because that game with that fast tempo, I felt it a little bit,” said Haden, who had one tackle Friday.
When the Browns held joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday with the Bucs, Haden intercepted a pass from starting quarterback Jameis Winston in each session.
“From the practices going against them, I was able to kind of get some of the rust out,” Haden said. “I don’t feel like I’m where I need to be, but I feel like I’m on the right track.”
The vast majority of the starters played for the entire first half Friday, but Haden left after two series. He was replaced by undrafted rookie cornerback Tracy Howard in the second quarter.
“Just easing back in. It’s all a part of the plan [to be ready] for game one,” Haden said.
The Browns’ starting defense allowed 14 first downs, 305 yards (259 passing and 46 rushing) and two touchdowns against the Bucs.
“When you give up 259 passing yards in one half, that is not a team that we want to be,” inside linebacker Chris Kirksey said Sunday during a conference call. “It is definitely frustrating. But this week, we are just striving on getting better. It is still preseason, so we are not going into panic mode, but we definitely have some things to clean up.”
The lack of stops on third down top the list. The Bucs’ starters converted 5-of-9 third downs.
“We have to get off the field and definitely eliminate some of the passing gains,” Kirksey said. “We have to be more sound in our drops and more sound in our coverage.”
Haden explained the secondary experienced communication problems.
“We’ve got a lot of adjustments that we can make to make us a whole lot better,” Haden said. “It’s not big things that are messing us up. It’s small things, communication errors. Like when [Bucs receiver Mike Evans] caught [a 34-yard] touchdown pass [in the second quarter], we were supposed to be in cover two with a safety over the top. People just weren’t really getting all of the checks. So that’s just communication we need to fix.”
A pass rush would certainly help, too. The Browns failed to generate a threatening one and didn’t have a sack Friday.
“Right now, it is the evaluation process, so we are evaluating different guys and we are putting different guys out there,” Kirksey said. “We are just trying new things. Once we get this thing rolling, I have all the faith in our pass rushers. We just have to continue to get to the point, getting pressure on the quarterback, getting to the quarterback and being violent.
“[Defensive coordinator] Ray [Horton] is like a mad scientist. He is ridiculous when it comes to putting guys on the field and putting them in the best position to make plays. I think that is what he going to do with our pass rushers. He is going to find some pass rushers, develop some pass rushers and we will be fine.”
Kirksey said the defense wasn’t “exposed” by Winston as being vulnerable against a mobile quarterback. Winston only rushed twice for 9 yards, but he repeatedly picked the Browns apart by scrambling and throwing on the run.
“We just have to dig deep and look at ourselves and say, ‘What do we want to be as a defense and how do we want to play?’” Kirksey said. “We are not in panic mode or going crazy saying, ‘Oh man, Jameis had this great game,’ or, ‘He exposed us,’ because it is preseason. We are not going to get too hyped in that. We are just out here trying to get better each and every day. Once preseason is over and when we get into regular season, we are going to hit the ground running.”
Jordan Poyer had been unchallenged throughout the offseason for the starting free safety job, but that changed Friday when he shared playing time with rookie Derrick Kindred.
Poyer and Kindred each played three series with the starting defense. Kindred, a fourth-round draft pick, had two tackles. Poyer had one.
“Kindred’s a really good player. He’s very physical. He plays fast. He’s a playmaker as you’ve seen throughout the preseason,” strong safety Ibraheim Campbell said Friday. “He’s someone who I think is ready to play whenever that time may be. So I feel completely comfortable with him.”
So long friend
Kirksey reflected on the Browns trading linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in 2013, to the New England Patriots last week for a fifth-round selection in next year’s draft.
“It was tough to see your brother go,” Kirksey said. “Especially me and Mingo, we built a relationship since I first got to Cleveland. He is a good guy. Whenever you see good guys leave, that is definitely something you struggle with, but it is part of the business. I wished him well. I had a chance to talk with him. I’m happy I got a chance to sit there and I said my goodbyes to him. That is still my friend and I wish him the best. He is going to another great organization, and I believe he’ll do well there.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.