Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden a rare rookie oozing confidence

Browns cornerback Joe Haden oozes confidence from every pore. It trickles from the ear holes in his orange helmet and seeps through his No. 23 jersey whether he's walking, running or simply standing and talking about his first NFL training camp.

He's a rookie — a rare one.

There's a swagger about the former Florida standout, a don't-mess-with-me bravado that doesn't come across as cocky but self-assured.

"You have to be confident playing corner," Haden said Thursday after the Browns wrapped up their morning practice. "D-backs just have that naturally."

It's just one of Haden's many gifts. The No. 7 overall selection in April's draft, he entered the league with questions about his speed after he posted a disappointing time in the 40-yard dash at the college scouting combine in Indianapolis.

No one is doubting his speed now. Haden has hit the ground at full stride with the Browns. He's proving to be a quick study on and off the field.

Because of an injury to Eric Wright, Haden started at left corner in Cleveland's exhibition opener in Green Bay last week. Against one of the league's top offenses, Haden more than held his own in his pro debut, finishing with three tackles and defending one pass.

Haden has a ways to go, but he has impressed Cleveland's coaching staff with his early body of work.

"I like a lot of what I'm seeing," coach Eric Mangini said. "The real value there is there's a lot to coach off of. He is playing against a higher level of competition more consistently. His experience last week against Green Bay's offense was a great way to start because you're starting fast against one of the best offensives in the NFL."

Haden could challenge Wright for the No. 1 job or he may start alongside his close friend if Sheldon Brown is dropped back to safety. No matter, Haden will be on the field this season for the Browns — a lot.

Although he hasn't needed long to make an impact, hardly a minute goes by that Haden isn't reminded by one of his teammates or coaches that this is his first year.

"I hear it every day," he said. "'Rook this, rook that. Rook, get me some seeds.' That's the main thing."

Yep, one of Haden's first duties with the Browns has been bringing packets of sunflower seeds to meetings for his teammates.

"Still the seed man," he said, smiling.

Haden believes playing for the Gators and against other schools in the talent-rich SEC may have given him an advantage over other first-year players. Not only does that conference have some of the nation's top players, the league boasts some of the fleetest as well.

"The NFL is fast, but the SEC might be a little bit faster sometimes," Haden said without batting an eye. "The speed thing is something that has helped me out a whole lot."

He's been getting some tutoring, too.

Haden has been leaning on Wright and Brown for advice. They've been showing him the daily dos and don'ts of playing cornerback, possibly the most challenging position in pro football.

"They're helping me out a whole lot," Haden said. "Sheldon has so much experience and knowledge. He talks a lot about not letting plays get to you. You want every play to be your best play, but Sheldon's says, 'Joe don't worry about it. Each practice just come out here and try to get better but some days are going to be a whole lot better than others. Just take what the coaches say and give it your best effort.'"

Haden and Wright have a growing bond, one that could be tested by competition and the depth chart. Haden, though, won't allow his friendship to get in the way of accelerating his career.

"If you're going to be nice to somebody or mean to somebody it's not going to help you at all," he said. "If you are making plays, you're going to start. If you're not, then you're not. Off the field, me and him are really cool. On the field, you gotta do what you gotta do to play.

"The better man is going to play."

Haden is far from a finished product. He's struggling to learn every facet of Cleveland's 3-4 system. Unlike in college, where he was only required to know his responsibilities and those of the secondary, the Browns want him to understand where every player should be on every snap.

On top of that, Haden is cramming to learn various offensive formations, which will change from week to week. It's much easier to stop a wide receiver running a pass route if you can anticipate his next move.

Haden is listening and learning.

"I feel like I'm getting a whole lot better every day," he said, "and the coaches keep telling me to just keep improving."

Notes: Mangini said the first teams will play through the first half of Saturday's home exhibition against St. Louis. QB Jake Delhomme only played one series last week against the Packers. ... Rookie wide receiver Carlton Mitchell appeared to injure his left shoulder during the morning session. The team did not have an update on his condition.