Haden’s injury a blow to Browns shaky secondary
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Already shaky, the Browns’ secondary is in shambles.
Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden has an injured hip and spent Wednesday riding a stationary bike during practice. High-profile rookie corner Justin Gilbert was benched last week at Tennessee, isn’t playing with confidence and has been hearing it from his teammates. Buster Skrine got beat for a 75-yard touchdown by the Titans.
And then there’s free agent rookie defensive backs K’Waun Williams and Robert Nelson, who may see the field extensively this week against Pittsburgh.
“If they have to play, they have to play,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said of the two youngsters.
It’s not a pretty picture.
Haden’s injury — he got hurt on a punt in the second half of Sunday’s historic comeback in Tennessee — is the last thing the Browns (2-2) need as they try to patch up a disappointing defense. Cleveland is ranked 31st overall in the league and the Browns have been equally ineffective stopping the run and pass.
Haden hasn’t played up to his standards and even if he does suit up this week, it’s unlikely he’ll be 100 percent. That’s never a good thing against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has a knack for finding a weakness, exposing it and doing serious damage.
He’s 18-1 in his career against the Browns.
Pettine said Wednesday he’s “cautiously optimistic” Haden will play, and the Browns can’t afford to be without their top cornerback, who will be matched up with Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ leading receiver.
Pettine was predictably vague when discussing Haden’s injury and status.
“We’re not quite sure,” Pettine said. “There’s some soreness in it. He went through the walkthrough this morning. We’ll be very cautious with it. You get to the point with certain guys where you feel good about their practice habits and where they are. You get them into Sunday mode. We’ll keep a very close eye on that.”
Gilbert’s issues have been more mental than physical.
The No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, Gilbert has failed to live up to expectations. The former Oklahoma State standout has struggled from the start, and his problems reached a crescendo last week when he was on the field for just nine snaps in the Browns’ 29-28 win over the Titans.
Mindful that Gilbert could be in a fragile state, Pettine has remained publicly upbeat that Gilbert is experiencing growing pains and will only improve.
“Justin’s been inconsistent. That’s the problem,” Pettine said. “He’s had his issues and he knows he’s been picked on when he’s in there, and there’s a lot of things that we need to get right with Justin, but we’re confident that we’re going to do it. Nobody’s bailing on him, and if he’s getting some tough love in the DB room, so be it.”
Gilbert was not available for interviews. He made a brief appearance in the locker room, but told reporters he had to lift weights and disappeared.
Williams embraced a day in the spotlight as the slight rookie from Pittsburgh was engulfed by a media throng in front of his locker. In Sunday’s win, Williams had several big tackles and he sacked Titans backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst on the game’s final drive.
“I thought I did all right,” Williams said. “There were some mistakes, but overall, I had a good game.”
Pettine feels Cleveland’s defensive problems are correctable, and can be attributed to a new scheme and season only one-quarter complete. The secondary may currently be brittle and green, but Pettine remains confident the unit will get better.
“I’m not down on that group because they want to get it right,” he said. “It’s a matter of going out there and putting the work in. There’s nothing magical about it. We’ve shown that we can do it. There are times we get it done, times we don’t.”
NOTES: Rookie LB Chris Kirksey is appealing his $8,268 fine for hitting Titans quarterback Jake Locker. Kirksey struck Locker in the head after the QB crossed the goal line. Kirksey says he respects Locker, who thought it was a dirty play. “Hopefully he shook it off,” Kirksey said. “It’s football. Things happen like that. I just feel that I know and my teammates know the type of player I am, the type of person I am.” ... QB Brian Hoyer was excited to learn his jersey is on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recognition of last week’s comeback in Tennessee. “To have something that I wore on display there is pretty cool, but with my luck, that record will get broken this week,” the Cleveland native said, smiling. ... OL Braxston Cave was signed to the practice squad. The 6-3, 305-pounder is in his first season from Notre Dame. He spent last season on the Patriots’ practice squad.