It’s probably not too often that you hear your top cornerback, a veteran of some years, talk about continuing to get better late into his career, but that is where Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden believes he is during his second year with the team, after spending his first seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
One thing that he has certainly experienced over the course of his career is an awful lot of turnover. As I’m sure the readers here know, the Browns have always made a lot of coaching changes at every level, and even at the executive level. Haden played under a number of different defensive coordinators and defensive backs coaches while in Cleveland.
Yet he is already on his second defensive backs coach in about 14 months with the Steelers as well, that being first-year Tom Bradley. Haden has been able to take something from everybody he has worked with, but the most important thing that he got this year was simply continuity, and that has led to comfort, and trust in himself.
“Above the neck, understanding the game, concepts, routes, I feel like the game has really slowed down for me this year”, he told the team’s website. “I know what I am doing, I can tell other people what is going on. Just slowing it down and let my film study come into play. I think that is just overall growth, being in the NFL”.
Haden was a top-10 draft pick back in 2010 by the Browns, with whom he made a couple of Pro Bowls. While he has dealt with a couple of injuries already in Pittsburgh—the main reason that Cleveland released him, having not been healthy the past few seasons—he has largely played well here, and is their most reliable player in the secondary.
The one game that he missed this season was the one game in which the defense was truly torn apart, that being back in week two. The aftermath of that game prompted the introduction of a rotation at the other cornerback spot. Meanwhile, their intended strong safety starter has missed most of the year.
Haden’s presence, then, has been critical for the defense on the field, simply because they cannot afford to have him on the sidelines. They do not have anybody else who is capable of turning in even a reasonable performance in his place, or at least that is how it has appeared of late.
But his presence off the field has been just as big, helping to build up the secondary around him. He has talked about trying to keep Artie Burns up while he is going through his struggles. The younger defensive backs turn to him when they need something, whether it’s technique or film work or just about anything else.