How Urban Meyer helped turn high school QBs Joe Haden, Paul Kruger into star defenders

by Alex Salamon | Mar 13, 2015
Kevin Jones, Staff Writer


Ohio State coach also a Browns fan, likes direction of team under Mike Pettine

Urban Meyer

COLUMBUS – You might need a calculator to add up all of Urban Meyer’s connections to the Cleveland Browns.

Ohio State’s head football coach grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, rooting for the Browns at old Municipal Stadium and even sat in the original Dawg Pound a time or two.

“If I ever walk by a TV, and the Browns are playing, I’m watching,” Meyer said Friday at Ohio State’s pro day.

Meyer’s imprint on the Browns isn’t just his fandom, though.

Part of the reason Joe Haden’s blossomed into a franchise cornerstone at defensive back is tied with Meyer. Haden was such a tremendous quarterback at Friendly High School in Maryland that there was real discussion about giving him a shot a competing under center at the University of Florida.

But Haden wanted to play – right away. After some nudging from Meyer, he obliged and moved to cornerback, becoming one of the most talented defensive backs the SEC has seen this century.

As Haden secured his place as a Gator legend on defense, Meyer admitted Friday he was extremely close to creating a Wildcat package of plays for Haden to line up at quarterback in college.

“What some people didn’t know was actually how good Joe could throw the football,” Meyer said. “We’re not surprised with all of his success. He does so many good things in the community. He’s been brought up the right way. He understands the big picture. And he’s been rewarded for it.”

Their time together wasn’t as lengthy, but when Meyer was the head coach at Utah, he signed a heralded recruit by the name of Paul Kruger back in 2004.

Like Haden, Kruger was a quarterback coming out of Timpanogos High School in Utah. Kruger redshirted his freshman year and then went on a spiritual mission for two years in Kansas City, a tradition in the Mormon faith.

When he returned to Utah, Kruger was bigger and had been converted to defensive line and, according to Meyer, Kruger thought about transferring to Florida.

“Man, he’s become a giant in the NFL,” Meyer said. “He was a big strapping quarterback who came from a great family. He wanted to play quarterback. I thought he might go to tight end because he was so big. But he’s remained a worker and a high character guy.”

As Meyer walked around Ohio State’s pro day, he chatted with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and several scouts. He gave pointers to several underclassmen, including quarterback Cardale Jones, who could be participating in a pro day at this time next year. 

And as Meyer prepares to send several players to the next level, he went out of his way in commending where the Cleveland Browns seem to be heading.

“Patience doesn’t exist, because I know, I’m a fan,” Meyer said. “But I think the future is really bright. I love (Mike Pettine). I think the organization is heading in the right direction.”