The Pittsburgh Steelers have now been without starting cornerback Joe Haden for an extended period of time. He has missed the past four games, and it’s not clear whether or not he will even be back this week. He just returned to practice on a limited basis, so today will be an important day on that front, testing out his injured foot.
Veteran Ahkello Witherspoon has started the past two games in his spot, after James Pierre was benched due to poor play, having gotten the first opportunity to be the next man up. The former was acquired via trade just before the regular season started, and spent most of the time prior to Haden’s injury as a healthy scratch.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler previously described that as not just due to his needing to get up to speed on the defense (aside from special teams factors), but also because he needed to see a greater sense of urgency in his efforts. While he still had work to do, Butler is seeing strides.
“We’re glad to have him. I would just want to see him mature a little bit and have a little bit more sense of urgency in his play”, he said of Witherspoon yesterday in speaking to the media, from the team. “I think he’s starting to do that a little bit. I think he’s starting to come around. Our secondary coaches have done a good job with him. Hopefully he’ll get better as time goes along”.
If Haden is unable to return to the field this week, then Witherspoon is going to get another chance to start, for the third game in a row, having come over this year as a fifth-year veteran with a few dozen starts under his belt. He recorded two interceptions last Thursday, and had a key deep pass defensed the game prior.
Asked if he saw Witherspoon coming around, Butler said, “I hope so. He’s a young guy. Smart guy, too, for as many years as he’s played in the league, and he’s a big, tall guy. Having somebody that tall playing corner is always good. It’s harder to throw over those guys. The fades and all that stuff”.
Even once Haden returns, Witherspoon could still continue to have a role. Is it possible that he could challenge Cameron Sutton for a starting role? Sutton could just as easily slide into the slot, a position at which he has started a number of games in his career, and where he may be best suited.
That is, of course, getting ahead of ourselves. The first step in that discussion is getting the secondary healthy before they can start to figure out which combination gives them the best chance of success on the field. But Witherspoon is certainly the more experienced option.