September 21, 2014

Elyria
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Browns’ Joe Haden, T.J. Ward back early

BEREA — Safety T.J. Ward lifted weights. Cornerback Joe Haden passed his conditioning test with “flying colors.” They both met with the defensive coaching staff and got their first real taste of the 4-3 scheme they’ll play in 2011.

Ward

Ward

Haden

Haden

A sense of normalcy returned to Browns headquarters Tuesday.

Maybe not for general manager Tom Heckert, who was sequestered in his office signing undrafted rookies, contacting the representatives of free agents and pondering trades. But for Ward and Haden — the team’s top two draft picks in 2010 who were immediate starters as rookies — they were NFL players again after a four-month lockout.

“It feels really good just to get back and see everyone and see a bunch of smiles,” Ward said. “We got some new blood in here. Things are gonna go good this year for us.”

Punter Reggie Hodges was the first player back at team facilities in the morning after the NFL lockout was lifted following an agreement between owners and players Monday.

Many of the Browns were still making their way back to town — defensive tackle Phil Taylor, the team’s first-round pick in April, tweeted during his 16-hour drive from Florida — because they don’t have to report until Friday. But about a dozen trickled in — including quarterback Colt McCoy — and Ward and Haden spent about five hours getting re-acclimated.

Besides for a two-day window in April, this is the first time they were allowed inside the building or to have contact with the coaches since March.

“We just met the whole defensive staff and talked with them and everyone seemed real excited and it’s all about business from here on out,” Ward said. “We’re looking at the defense a bit, it’s not going to be as difficult as our defense was last year. We had a bunch of schemes and a bunch of techniques and calls that, I think at times, confused some of the guys on defense and maybe our cohesion wasn’t there as well last year.

“But I think this year it’s more basic and just use your athletic ability and skills as a football player to make plays.”

Secondary coach Jerome Henderson was one of the assistants kept by first-year coach Pat Shurmur. That was welcome news to Ward and Haden, who said they plan on taking on increased leadership roles in their second seasons.

“One thing that Coach Henderson said was they are going to put you in a position so you can make a play,” Haden said. “It’s more you versus your opponent, you versus the man across from you, more than trying to beat them mentally.

“You line up and if you make a play, then you make a play. I like my chances, I like T.J.’s chances, I like Sheldon (Brown’s) chances.”

The end of the lockout was a relief for the cornerstones of the secondary. Ward had a better grasp than Haden of the deal that took months to reach.

“I don’t even know what we got or what they got,” Haden said. “I just knew that they said the facility opened up today, so I was like, ‘All right, man, I can go work out.’”

“I think both sides broke even,” Ward said. “I think it’s a good deal for both sides. But I liked the old one. I just want to play football, man.”

The new agreement restricts the number of padded practices and all but eliminates two-a-days in training camp. If the players are in pads for the first practice, the second session is out of pads and basically a walk-through.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Haden said with a big smile.

“Whatever’s going to keep us healthy,” Ward said. “I’m sure that’s going to help keep us healthy and keep everyone fresh in the coming up weeks. And I think it’s great.

“Two-a-days are not fun, but at the same time you get a lot of work done. So I think that’s maybe one negative.”

Free-agent buzz

The Browns didn’t announce any agreements Tuesday as negotiations were allowed to start with all free agents. Deals can’t be formally signed until Friday at 6 p.m., but they can be reached.

“We talked to quite a few players. Our own and others,” Heckert said on WKNR 850-AM.

The Browns may have had a couple of their top targets taken out of play. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson reportedly agreed to return to the Panthers. The Browns need depth along the line as they switch to the 4-3, and Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks last season.

Former Eagles safety Quintin Mikell reportedly agreed to terms with St. Louis, and Ravens offensive lineman Marshal Yanda will return to Baltimore.

Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards is another possibility, and went on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Adam Schein. The host tweeted: “ray edwards raving about the #browns. would be a nice fit.”

The salary cap is $120.4 million for 2011, and ESPN.com reported the Browns are $33.3 million under. They must spend most of that to fulfill new league rules.

“We’re in great shape,” Heckert said.

One of the Browns’ first orders of business would seem to be re-signing some of their own free agents. Cornerback Eric Wright and defensive linemen Jayme Mitchell and Robaire Smith play positions of need and have indicated they’re open to returning.

“I’ve talked to E. I’m sure he’d love to be back here,” Ward said of Wright. “We fit great. I would love for him to be back. That’s just my personal opinion, but I don’t know what the hands above say about it.”

The rest of Cleveland’s free agents are: running back Mike Bell, safety Abram Elam, tight end Greg Estandia, safety Sabby Piscitelli, defensive end Derreck Robinson, linebacker Matt Roth, safety Nick Sorensen, receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebacker Jason Trusnik, fullback Lawrence Vickers and offensive linemen Floyd Womack and Billy Yates.

Undrafted rookies

  • The Browns agreed to terms with 22 undrafted rookies and they’re expected to be in the building today. The team didn’t announce any of the names, but here’s a partial list of those expected to join the Browns, based on tweets by the players and reports. Missouri cornerback Carl Gettis, Notre Dame linebacker Brian Smith, Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak, Tennessee State linebacker Sidney Tarver, Western Michigan receiver Juan Nunez (91 catches, 1,032 yards, 10 touchdowns), Kentucky receiver Chris Matthews (61 catches, 925 yards, nine touchdowns), Hillsdale quarterback Troy Weatherhead (12 starts, 3,215 yards, 26 TDs, six interceptions, and was a backup for the Arena Football League’s Cleveland Gladiators), Oregon State cornerback James Dockery, Minnesota offensive lineman Dominic Alford and Delta State receiver L.J. Castile.
  • The Browns had yet to announce the training camp schedule as of Tuesday night. The first practice open to the public is Sunday, but the time hasn’t been set.

Quote of the day

“I think the one thing that I missed the most about the whole lockout was just being able to work out with your dudes,” Haden said. “Working out at home, it’s good ’cause you’re gonna still get the work in. But just being around the dudes, making sure you’re all hanging out together, going out to dinner, all that stuff. I think that was the one thing I missed the most.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.