While I am not sold on the end results of the acquisition of cornerback Joe Haden for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one positive that I can add about him coming specifically to this team is that it breeds a certain level of familiarity for him that should help him make a relatively quick transition.
That is a pretty key fact when you consider that the regular season opener is just a week and a half away, and no doubt he will be expected to be in the starting lineup by then. Of course, you can add the very fact that that first game will be in the stadium in which he has spent his entire career as one small ingredient in easing his transition.
But it goes far deeper than that. For one thing, he has some friendly faces waiting on his arrival when he gets to Pittsburgh. He has a pair of former college teammates with him on the roster, namely veteran offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert.
Haden was a top-10 pick during the 2010 NFL Draft, the same year that the Steelers added Pouncey with the 18th-overall selection. They were both part of the champion Florida Gators team. And Pittsburgh added another alum from that group the following year with the drafting of Gilbert in the second round in 2011.
Over the years, Pouncey has tried to persuade the Steelers to bring in certain players. It is known that he helped in getting Chris Rainey drafted in 2012, who was another former teammate. He wanted to see his brother brought in as well.
Pouncey and Gilbert both campaigned to bring Haden into the fold, but while they may be the only former teammates, much of this roster knows him well through annual battles. None perhaps more so than wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has admittedly won more than his share of skirmishes.
The connections don’t end there, however. Perhaps most importantly, he does have a fairly direct connection to the Steelers’ coaching tree. The Browns have on two separate occasions during Haden’s tenure there employed Ray Horton as their defensive coordinator.
Horton was a long-time disciple of and assistant coach under Dick LeBeau, who is of course the architect of the Steelers’ modern-day defense. He was the Steelers’ defensive backs coach from 2004 to 2010, leaving only to take a coordinator job. He was the Browns’ defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2016.
Horton brought with him key LeBeau staples, but also adapted it into a more aggressive style that may actually bear more resemblances to what they would like to do this year.
Having the experience of digesting a LeBeau disciple’s defense has obvious advantages when moving to a LeBeau disciples defense under Keith Butler. Having familiar faces and practicing against a familiar opponent and making your debut with your new team in your old stadium are all advantages.