Trent Richardson wasn’t there. Joe Haden was, despite a potential suspension hovering over him, and the Browns practiced at their own stadium Wednesday for first time in front of new owner Jimmy Haslam III.
Just another day at Training Camp 2012 for Cleveland.
Richardson, the No. 3 overall draft pick, traveled to Florida for an examination Thursday on his ailing left knee, raising questions about the running back’s long-term durability, while Haden showed spirited play at cornerback, but did so amid reports that he could face a four-game suspension for a failed drug test.
It all made for an interesting evening practice at Cleveland Browns Stadium in what was labeled “Family Night,” an opportunity for the hometown fans to see their new-look, new-attitude team.
Well, they saw the team all right.
But they did so with concern on their faces.
“It’s really a league matter,” Haden said, “and I can’t comment at all.”
Haden was Cleveland’s top pick in 2010, and is one of the most explosive players on a defense that needs stars. He had 65 tackles last season, and 19 passes defensed, but could miss a quarter of this season, pending the test.
Richardson, meanwhile, will be checked by Dr. James Andrews, who performed arthroscopic surgery on the former Alabama running back’s left knee in February.
Despite the news, Haslam — introduced last week after a morning practice at the team’s training facility in Berea, Ohio, only adding to the camp intrigue — was upbeat, and that’s tough these days. After all, linebacker Chris Gocong was lost for the season with a torn right Achilles tendon during camp, raising questions about the middle of the defense in coach Pat Shurmur’s second season.
Haslam’s purchase of the Browns (No. 30 in the AP Pro32) from Randy Lerner for $1 billion is still awaiting official league approval, but the Tennessee truck-stop tycoon is out and about, trying to make friends right away anyway. On Wednesday, he met with first-time season ticket holders, toured the stadium, and watched on the field in front of an announced crowd of 19,412.
Haslam spoke with the media, but did not address the problematic personnel issues. He said he is certain, though, that he learned two things immediately.
“First, I’ve never seen people who enjoy football as much as this community,” he said. “And 1-A, we’ve got to win.”
The latter, of course, will be tougher — keep in mind, this team went just 4-12 last season — if Richardson or Haden miss significant time. The Browns will also enter the season with linebacker Scott Fujita on a three-game suspension as part of the bounty scandal in New Orleans. Fujita has appealed and a hearing is scheduled for Friday, when the veteran will be with the Browns for their first preseason game in Detroit.
Shurmur, as expected, refused comment on Haden, and hoped Richardson would be back soon. He has high hopes for Richardson, who starred for the Crimson Tide last season in a national-championship run. He had an MRI in Cleveland on Tuesday, and will see Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., for a second opinion.
Andrews has been Richardson’s surgeon since the running back was a high school standout. He performed the surgery to repair a torn meniscus in February. In most cases after such an operation, swelling in the knee is not uncommon and Richardson wore a protective sleeve on the leg during Organized Team Activities and minicamps in May and June. The Feb. 3 surgery caused him to miss some portions of the NFL combine.
“We’re hopeful he will play the season opener for us,” Shurmur said. “I’ll know more (Thursday).”
Just as fans were beginning to digest the news on Richardson, the buzz around Haden, who may have used a banned substance, surfaced. Haden was a key to Cleveland’s improved defensive backfield, which ranked second overall in pass defense a year ago.
A suspended Haden would ensure Cleveland’s defense would be minus four starters — along with Gocong, Fujita, and Phil Taylor — for the opener vs. Philadelphia Sept. 9. Taylor, also a former first-rounder (2011), is recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, and is out until midseason.
During the night practice, however, Cleveland’s defense had a field day against rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and reserves Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. They intercepted four passes in a span of about 10 minutes, with safety Ray Ventrone’s second signaling an end to the drills.
“They were getting after it,” Shurmur said. “It was a great practice.”
The Browns selected Weeden at No. 22 overall after trading up to take Richardson in what was a quick, much-needed, draft-night change on offense. The Browns signed Richardson to a four-year, $20.5 million contract, and he hit the ground running, impressing the staff before sitting out on Tuesday, raising questions about this being the same, old Browns.