As the Pittsburgh Steelers return to the field for training camp, where the team will hold its first padded practice today, there is a palpable excitement in the air. Not just to be back on the field and playing football. But to be beginning a season with playoff hopes, led by the last run of a Hall of Fame quarterback and a defensive filled with young cornerstones.
Ahead of that padded practice, one of the veteran leaders of that defense took a few minutes to speak with NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. Joe Haden had a lot of praise for his defense, and set the expectations high for this season.
“We have so much talent. Our front seven, I think it’s comparable to anybody in the NFL. T.J. Watt, I think he could’ve been Defensive Player of the Year the last two years. You know I love Aaron Donald to death, that dude is a massive man. He’s a baller, but at the same time, T.J. has been so consistent with his sacks, with his pressures, with creating turnovers. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt is back healthy,” Haden began, before continuing on with his teammates away from the line.
“Devin Bush was playing unbelievable but you know unfortunately with his injury. Minkah Fitzpatrick, I think he’s the best safety in the league. You’ve got Terrell Edmunds, myself, Cam Sutton, just a host of players with so much talent on this defense. We have a really good scheme. So I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to be the number one defense in the league.”
The last two seasons, Pittsburgh has been among the league’s elite defenses. The team finished third in yards and points allowed last season, and fifth in both the year before that. Taking that step forward and finishing better than defenses like the Los Angeles Rams with Aaron Donald and the rival Baltimore Ravens will require strong seasons from the entire rundown that Haden mentioned.
It will also require players to step up. From Alex Highsmith and Melvin Ingram replacing Bud Dupree on the edge, to James Pierre and Antoine Brooks Jr. replacing Mike Hilton in the slot, to Pierre and Sutton replacing Steven Nelson on the outside.
Pittsburgh’s defense is good enough to warrant those expectations. But to be the best in the league, a great defense will need to take another step forward.