The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 OTA practices got underway on Tuesday and according to veteran cornerback Joe Haden, the defense registered two interceptions with him picking off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early in the session. Haden, who registered two interceptions last season, talked later to the media about his first practice interception of 2019.
“Excited I got a pick,” Haden said. “You know, Ben is a wily vet, he’s gonna be good. That’s just me just trying to make a play and just trying to get opportunities up.”
Haden’s two interceptions last season wound up being the most by a one Steelers defensive player as the team registered just 8 all season. Its been more than 30 years since the Steelers registered an interception total that low and you can bet head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler are putting as much emphasis on that stat as they can this offseason.
While the Steelers defense only managed to register 8 total interceptions in 2018, it’s worth noting that the unit had several opportunities to have a lot more. In fact, the Steelers led the league in dropped interceptions in 2018 with 13, according to Pro Football Focus.
Haden talked on Tuesday about the missed interception opportunities the Steelers defense had last season and what needs to be done this season to correct that.
“I think a lot of the opportunities, just you’ve got to catch the ones that hit us in the face,” Haden said. “You know, if we would’ve caught a lot of the picks that we dropped, I would say we dropped at least six or seven, and then a couple of them that I dropped, then the ones, I mean. and unfortunately me and SD [Sean Davis] ran into each other for one of them. So, we have a lot opportunities out there that we left on the field.
“So just the ones that hit us in the face. And then when we’ve got the d-line putting that pressure on them, that they will continue to do, that we just gotta make sure we catch the ones that hit us and we’ll be fine.”
In an effort to hopefully help increase the number of defensive interceptions in 2019, the Steelers signed free agent cornerback Steven Nelson during the offseason and he’ll now likely start opposite Haden. Nelson, who had a team-best 4 interceptions with the Kansas City Chiefs last season, was asked Tuesday after his first OTA practice with the Steelers to disclose just how much of an emphasis is being preached by the coaches to the defense so far this offseason when it comes to the unit getting a lot more turnovers in 2019.
“They preach it a lot,” Nelson said. “Even in our drills, we work on just catching the ball and tucking the ball and just trying to create turnovers. If the ball, touches the ground, we preach scoop. It’s just practicing good habits.”
The Steelers offense will certainly need a lot more help from the team’s defense in 2019 with wide receiver Antonio Brown being jettisoned out of town via a trade this past offseason. That help needs to come in the form of shorter fields via at least 25 total defensive turnovers. Last season, the Steelers defense produced a measly 15 total turnovers with just 4 coming in the final seven games. In case you need reminding, the Steelers went 3-4 in those final seven regular season games.
By the way, Steelers third-year cornerback Brian Allen reportedly had the other interception during Tuesdays first OTA practice of 2019, according to Haden.
“I think we had two picks today,” Haden said. “So, just as many more practices that we’ve got, just making sure that the ones that hit us in the hands we catch. And just don’t be thirsty for them, you’ve got to have pass breakups and don’t just start going out of character. But when the ball comes to you, make sure you catch it.”