BEREA, Ohio — Joe Haden’s training camp — and a stormy one for the Browns — ended before any of his teammates were finished.
Arguably Cleveland’s best defensive player, Haden was kicked off the practice field Wednesday by coach Pat Shurmur, who felt the third-year cornerback was being too physical with rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin during a passing drill on the final day of workouts open to fans.
Haden was ordered to leave roughly an hour into the practice by an angry Shurmur, who declined to provide details of the incident during his news conference.
“I’m not going to talk about it,” Shurmur chirped. “That’s between me and the player. I have a great deal of respect for Joe. If you want details, you’re going to have to find it on Twitter. My only apology is that I used bad language and the fans were here to see it. Joe’s a great competitor and I appreciate what he does and who he is and that’s the last you’ll hear me talk about it.”
Shurmur didn’t even let a reporter finish a follow-up question.
“Don’t ask,” he snapped. “Don’t ask. You have to go somewhere else to find out.”“
During 7-on-7 drills, Benjamin caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone when he was taken down by Haden, who unsuccessfully tried to strip the ball and then yanked on the back of Benjamin’s jersey. After being ejected by Shurmur, Haden removed his helmet and shoulder pads and quickly headed into the locker room.
Team president Mike Holmgren was watching practice from a nearby bench when Haden was excused.
The Browns denied interview requests for Haden, who was back on the field for the afternoon walkthrough.
After that session, Shurmur said he and Haden had cleared the air.
“Joe and I talked and everything’s fine,” Shurmur said. “It’s a dead issue.”
Shurmur’s annoyance with Haden could be understandable given the rash of injuries that have plagued the Browns since camp opened last month.
Benjamin recently missed time with an undisclosed injury, and 13 players, including rookie running back Trent Richardson, sat out Wednesday’s workout. Richardson recently underwent knee surgery. On Monday, running back Chris Ogbonnaya sustained a leg injury when he got tangled at the end of a play.
Shurmur said player safety is his primary concern.
“It’s important that we practice smart,” he said. “You have to be able to practice at game speed, and you win and lose in practice. I think it’s important that guys understand that. I want all of our guys to make it to the horse race. Safety, everything I do I think about these players and this team. I told them that. All my thoughts revolve around our players and our team. I think it’s very important that we practice fast and we’re smart.”
Haden’s early dismissal capped an eventful camp for both he and the Browns.
In the first few days, owner Randy Lerner announced he was selling the team to truck-stop magnate Jimmy Haslam III, who is buying the Browns for $1 billion. Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft, underwent microscopic surgery on his left knee, and has yet to play in an exhibition game.
Starting outside linebacker Chris Gocong sustained a season-ending injury, and there has been continuous speculation about the future of former starting quarterback Colt McCoy, who lost his job to rookie Brandon Weeden.
Those issues came on the heels of defensive tackle Phil Taylor tearing a chest muscle lifting weights (he’s expected to miss at least six games) and linebacker Scott Fujita’s three-game suspension from his involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
Haden, too, has been embroiled in controversy this summer. He’s facing a possible four-game suspension by the NFL for reportedly failing a drug test.
Shurmur said the Browns have not heard from the league on Haden’s situation, and that he couldn’t comment on it even if they had.
Haden’s on-field actions on Wednesday seemed out of character for the easygoing and popular 23-year-old, who was drafted by Cleveland with the seventh overall pick in 2010. Haden had six interceptions as a rookie but didn’t have any last season, when he was plagued by several drops.
Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson acknowledged that end-of-camp emotions may have contributed to the incident between Shurmur and Haden.
“Both guys, I think they both realize after they settled down it was a little bit overboard,” Jackson said. “But things happen and words were said, and once we get in the locker room it’ll be over with. It was a play where two guys were competing for the ball and one guy fell. We are trying to keep guys healthy and it starts with keeping guys up.
“It’s Day 21 and guys have not gotten a lot of sleep and it’s the dog days of camp.”
Wide receiver Josh Cribbs chalked it up to just another day for the Browns.
“Boys will be boys,” he said. “It’s like fights in training camp. Then when you get in the locker room, you joke and laugh and sing songs together.”
Notes: Shurmur said Richardson is “progressing very well” and is ahead of schedule. Shurmur wouldn’t speculate if the former Alabama All-American will play in an exhibition game. Browns President Mike Holmgren said in an interview with SportsTime Ohio that Richardson will run in a pool this week, and will return to practice next week. Holmgren said there’s a chance Richardson will play in the Sept. 9 opener against Philadelphia. … The Browns averaged 2,653 fans per training camp practice and drew 37,136 fans to the 14 sessions open to the public. … Weeden was excited camp was over. “Man, I am more than ready,” he said. “I’m 28, I’m married and you’re staying in a hotel with bed check at eleven. Even if I wanted to go to bed at 10, I can’t even go to bed because I’m going to get woken up after an hour of sleep. I’m not going to miss that, but I think that’s just part of the fun of training camp.”