The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary as a whole is not particularly old. Joe Haden is the only player in the group who is at least 30 years old, or even particularly close. Even his fellow starting outside cornerback, Steven Nelson, is 27 years old, and he won’t turn 28 this season unless the Steelers make a deep postseason run into late January.
Their starting safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, are both 23 years old. Mike Hilton is 26 years old. Cameron Sutton is 25 years old. Then you have young depth in guys like Justin Layne, Marcus Allen, and Antoine Brooks, now with the more experienced veteran safety addition of Curtis Riley, 28.
In spite of the fact that this is a young group overall, however, senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin is impressed with the professionalism that they display and the internal leadership that they provide. That does start with Haden, now in his 11th season, but he’s not the only one.
“Good veteran leadership, you can’t have enough of that in your room and I think we have that”, he told reporters earlier this week. “Joe is a veteran, Steve is a veteran. Minkah and TE are younger guys, but they have played a lot of snaps. They actually get back to the guys in there so that we are all on the same page”.
The safety position in particular is really interesting. Both Fitzpatrick and Edmunds have played extensively in their two seasons and are now growing comfortable in their roles. 2020 will be year three for the both of them, and that is when T.J. Watt really took out at edge defender last year.
“I think that is something the veterans do and when you have an unselfish group of veterans, they are really going to pull the young guys along because they know in the long run, they are only going to be as good as all of the guys in the room”, Austin added.
“They want the young guys to reach the potential in the room”, he expanded. “They are not trying to not give them information and let them learn it on their own. They want them to be really good and they want them to be so good that they are pushing the vets because they know that gives us a chance to be the best team. And our guys have done a great job of that”.
Haden has been great about giving back to the other defensive backs ever since he got here, but that really started to take over in earnest in 2018 after Mike Mitchell was let go—as were William Gay and Robert Golden—leaving him in a real leadership position, and he took over the unit’s player-only weekly gatherings.
Now these five starters actually have a season under their belts of playing together. And they are all at or near their physical prime as athletes, so there’s no reason to expect that they can’t be just as good or even better in 2020.