Cornerback Joe Haden has been one of the focal points of attention lately for the team, which is not entirely unfitting by any means. For one thing, they are playing his former team, with whom he spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career.
But Haden has become a critical piece of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense in the 14 months that he has been here, while the Cleveland Browns have just drafted a cornerback that they are hoping will be able to replace him, after the team released him in August of last year.
The former first-round pick himself is making a hefty sum to play for the Steelers, especially considering the fact that he became a free agent just before the regular season started, but he has been worth it. In fact, one player who would know him best, Antonio Brown, thinks that Haden is as good as he has ever been—if not better.
While the former Gator admits that he is not quite as fast as he once was, even he has talked about the advancements that he has made in the mental part of his game, speaking of the action on the field slowing down for him more and more.
“He’s a lot better”, Brown told reporters according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s a lot heftier, way better, smarter, more aggressive”.
The Steelers have even been giving him opportunities to check wide receivers over the course of entire games, including in their past two contests. First he shut down A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals for three quarters, then it was Julio Jones’ turn to be irrelevant for 75 percent of the game for the Atlanta Falcons. Pittsburgh won both games.
Given the lack of any standout threats at wide receiver, particularly those who play on the outside, I would not expect Haden to be doing that sort of matching up today against his old team, but the Steelers do use him in different ways.
“We do a lot of things with him, and he’s showed up big this year”, said newcomer Jon Bostic, one of their staring inside linebackers who was a freshman at Florida when Haden was in his final season in college. “He has done so many things for us as a defense”.
Haden has a handful of former teammates on the roster as current teammates, including a Florida contingent along the offensive line in center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Even L.J. Fort was with the Browns for one season while Haden was there.
As the Steelers host the Browns for the second time since he has been with the team, he knows now more than ever where his home is on the football field. It’s in Pittsburgh, likely where it will remain until his playing days are done.