Joe Haden was determined to lead by example on the league's youngest team. So the Browns veteran cornerback played through a nagging and painful groin injury — "I couldn't open up, couldn't run speed," Haden said earlier this week — that required surgery after a 1-15 season.
But on Tuesday, it all seemed like a distant memory as a healthy Haden met with reporters following the opening of Cleveland's offseason workout program.
"That was the worst season that we have had in awhile, and we have been having some bad ones," he said. "Everybody has just got to check their ego at the door. There's no reason for any of us to have an ego anyway. We just got to get ready to ball, attack this offseason and try to win some games."
Haden, the two-time Pro Bowler who's entering his eighth season, seemed particularly invigorated by new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, whom he said has challenged him since their first meeting.
"When I first got here and I met him, I went up to his office and we talked for a while, just about my toughness," Haden said. "And the biggest thing was, he told me, 'If you didn't play through your injury, I would've told them to get you outta here.' So he was in my face when I met him."
That didn't bother Haden. Instead, he's using it as motivation, eager to help lead a young Browns defense and show why he's considered one of the best cornerbacks in the game.
"I just feel like with my love of the game, my passion," he said, "my thing is now, I'm going to prove to him I'm the best corner in the game."
You don't have to remind Haden how he's had to battle injuries the past two seasons. Last year, a groin injury that just wouldn't seem to heal forced him to miss three games (though he still had 48 tackles, 11 pass breakups and three interceptions).
Perhaps more frustrating was how that came after he spent the past offseason recovering from an unexpected ankle surgery. Before that, his 2015 season was cut short by concussions.
"That's one thing that you can't control," Haden said. "I'm trying to control that. I feel healthy now. As long as I feel like I am out there being able to be healthy and just taking care of my body, that's the biggest thing. I don't feel like anything else is a factor. That's just it."
He added: "It's been a lot, it's been tough trying to fight through it." "But when I'm out there healthy," Haden continued, "nobody can mess with me."