“He hasn’t been this excited to play football since his Florida days”.
This quote comes courtesy of the father of Joe Haden. An accomplished cornerback for the national champion Florida Gators collegiately, Haden was a top-10 draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, but is not in his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers following his release by the former after seven years.
While playing for a winning team certainly helps—he is overjoyed to be playing in the postseason for the first time in his career—it also has a lot to do with the fact that he is feeling a lot better, physically, than he has in a while. And that is even considering a fractured fibula he suffered in-season.
Haden faced a number of injuries over the course of the previous two seasons, including concussion and groin injuries, to the point where he even asked himself if he were simply injury-prone. But he wanted to do something about it, so he got hooked up with a man named Alex Skacel, who has essentially become his personal performance specialist.
Skacel, who now lives down the street from Haden and works with him on a daily basis, has trained the cornerback using a variety of advanced sports performance and technology methods and tools. One of the most intriguing was the use of analytic software to evaluate his body movement, indicating weaknesses.
The trainer told Jeremy Fowler that the work has largely been ”about getting him away from the weak movements” in the way that he moves, he said, “because when you get injured, you change how you move, and it affects other parts of your body”.
One before-and-after- photo from months apart shows how Haden ‘learned’ to lunge by dipping his right knee toward the interior of his body, which developed in order to compensate for the injuries that he has dealt with, including recent groin injuries. Skacel helped to train that movement out of him, which could contribute to further injury.
“Once you start getting a little older, you start getting slow, and once you lose a step and you can’t stay on top, that’s when it’s time to move on to a safety or something different”, Haden told Fowler. “So for me, my health and my long speed is what I need to do what I do—because the concepts of football are getting easier and easier”.
He credits his work this offseason in helping him to retain his long speed, which may actually be even more pronounced than in recent years, given that he is healthier than he has been in years. Skacel has even become a presence at the team’s facility, meeting with them to talk about the cornerback’s progress.
As many players age, they come to realize how invaluable their physical well-being is to both their performance and their job security. James Harrison famously said that he spends hundreds of thousands annually to maintain his conditioning as he approaches 40. Haden may only be 28, but he understands well how important it is to stay in the best shape possible, and is being proactive now about maintaining it.