Coaches praise everything about Joe Haden
- When the NFL announced the AFC Defensive Player of the Month on Thursday, there was some surprise in the building that Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who had 6.5 sacks, had been chosen over Joe Haden, who has an interception in three straight games. Cleveland's cornerback told reporters in the locker room Sunday after the loss to Buffalo that November was the best month of his career.
- "I think Joe Haden is the best cornerback in football," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said Thursday. We wrote the same on Monday.
- Mike Pettine stated Haden has perfected his technique throughout the year, using his hands more aggressively and staying balanced with his feet placement.
- "No challenge is too big. He looks forward to it," Pettine said. "He's not a guy that kind of shies away from that. I think there are times when it's certain coverages or situations where we're not putting him on maybe their No. 1 (receiver). He wants it, but he's as good a team guy as I've been around. He'll say, 'Coach, wherever you need to use me.'"
- Haden struggled – by his standards – through the first part of the season but has locked down the likes of A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins and Andre Johnson in recent weeks. His goal remains what O'Neil says he already is.
- "I feel like I'm doing what I need to do," Haden said. "I'm working at it and trying to be the best corner in the game. I work every day to do that. My leadership comes by action and by making plays on the field and the way I play the game."
Joe Thomas carries big weight in Berea
- Kyle Shanahan's been an offensive coordinator in the NFL for seven seasons. He's rarely, if ever, seen a leader as highly regarded as the Browns' seven-time Pro Bowler. That's why the coaching staff sought out Thomas' opinion on the quarterback situation before announcing a decision Wednesday.
- "When Joe talks, it always carries weight with me," Shanahan said. "This is my first year meeting Joe. I've obviously always known him with his pedigree and how good his career has been, but just being around him through an NFL season, seeing how much the game does mean to Joe, how hard he plays, how - whether it's the run game or the pass game - he does everything we ask of him. It means a lot to him. Anytime a guy who's as good of a player as he is, who puts in as much work as he does, when he talks – every coach or player is going to listen."
- Thomas admitted his game against the Bills, which included a couple of holding penalties, wasn't his best. He, along with the rest of the offense, has to play above par against the Colts.
DID NOT PRACTICE – Gary Barnidge (ribs), Paul Kruger (illness), Donte Whitner (rest), Jabaal Sheard (foot), Robert Nelson (hamstring).
LIMITED – Karlos Dansby (knee), Isaiah Crowell (hip), Jordan Cameron (concussion), Marlon Moore (hamstring).
FULL – Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), Nick McDonald (ankle/knee).
- Pettine has been floored by Dansby's commitment to get back on the field. It was thought when Dansby first fell to the turf against the Texans he would be out for the season.
- "He's been beyond aggressive trying to get back," said Cleveland's head coach. "We knew whatever span they gave us, whether it's four to six. We knew it'd be three. Just the way he is, the way he approaches it, how important it is to him – that just speaks to who he is. Just one of the many reasons why he's here because the young guys see that, and that's a great example for them."
Special Teams supremacy will be needed vs. the Colts
- We have the story of Josh Cribbs' return here, but it's more than just him. Kicker Adam Vinatieri hasn't missed a field goal in 2014 (25/25) while punter Pat McAfee is leading the league in punting average (47.4).
- The Browns have some weapons of their own. Kick returner Marlon Moore (hamstring) is expected to return this week. On Thursday, it was coverage man specialist, Johnson Bademosi who was receiving all the praise from Pettine and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
- "To me, he should be in the discussion from a Pro Bowl standpoint for special teams," Pettine said of the 24-year-old gunner. "I know missing the time has hurt him, but he is an elite teamer, very smart."
- Said special teams coach Chris Tabor. "He's grown as a pro. He understands a little bit more obviously what it takes to play on the outside, to get doubled, to beat doubles, to be the first guy in and obviously be able to make plays. He's done a nice job not only in his cover areas, but he's become a better blocker as the year has gone on."
- Remember, during Cleveland's last home win Nov. 2 against Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers special teams units didn't seem comfortable in the blustery conditions. Billy Winn blocked a field goal and Craig Robertson's deflected punt set up Brian Hoyer's game-winning touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel.
Odds and Ends
- The Browns are still deciding if Nick McDonald or Ryan Seymour will get the start at center this Sunday vs. the Colts. McDonald (knee/ankle) has practiced fully this week but the coaches were encouraged by what they saw from Seymour. If Seymour gets the nod, he will become the fourth different starting center the Browns have featured in 2014.
- "To me, it's similar to the quarterback situation just a little less of a glamour position," said Pettine. "It's competition. You go with the guy who gives you the best chance to win. This is no different."
- O'Neil called defensive end Desmond Bryant the most improved player on defense since the season began. Bryant posted three sacks in November all while being the anchor that's buckled down on the stopping the run.
- "We thought we had it really good when we got here and we evaluated him off tape," said O'Neil. "He obviously bounced back from the heart procedure that he had. He didn't have a lot of reps in the system early in the season, so he kind of got off to a slow start. I think the last four or five games he's really been a force for us inside, and that's really helped us, especially with the injuries that we've had in that room."