Joe Haden isn’t a spring chicken anymore. He’s 32. And he knows a cornerback who can’t run is a cornerback who can’t play. He’s dedicated this offseason to focus on conditioning and speed, allowing him to squeeze out at least one more year in the NFL.
“I started when I was getting older, I just got to keep my speed,” Haden told reporters in a Tuesday Zoom call. “So it’s less as much I lift weights, it’s more of conditioning training and running. Just keeping that cardio and keeping that speed. Because that’s the first thing that goes when you start getting older as a corner is your speed. If you can’t keep up with those dudes then that’s what really starts to get your game out of there.
In a man-heavy Steelers’ scheme that plays a lot of Cover 1, meaning there isn’t always safety help over the top, cornerbacks have to be able to turn and run. Haden came into the league as a fast, athletic cornerback, running in the low 4.4’s after a miserable Combine performance. But entering his 12th year, his odometer has plenty of mileage so staying in great shape and maintaining that athletic ability is key.
There have been times where you could see Haden’s diminish. Against the Broncos last season, WR Courtland Sutton blew by him for a 45 yard catch. Sutton is a long-striding, speedy receiver, but the NFL is full of those guys these days.
Haden may be doing his best to keep his speed but Father Time always wins out. 33 years old after this season, it’s reasonable to believe 2021 will be Haden’s final year with the Steelers. He’s set to be a free agent and it may be tough for Pittsburgh to compensate him fairly and risk getting stuck with his contract if/when his speed goes away.
But there’s no question Haden is in great shape this season, a hard and smart worker, and savvy veteran whose football IQ can help make up for any degradation of speed and overall athletic ability.
“So over and above the neck, I know I’m so much smarter, but as long as I keep my speed up, I think that’s the biggest thing. So I just work a lot of speed training in the offseason.”