It’s not necessarily typical for an 11-year veteran to be one of the most high-energy players on a football team, but in 2020, pretty much nothing has been typical.
So in a way, it sort of fits that veteran Steelers corner Joe Haden has been one of the guys that’s brought the most energy to the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in the early portion of training camp.
In an empty stadium, it’s easy to pick out. It’s also a requirement to bring your own, as the Steelers are adjusting to having camp behind closed doors without fans for the first time in anyone’s memory.
They’re also doing so in the middle of a pandemic that has seemingly thrown a wet blanket over the collective consciousness of the country and has repeatedly threatened the 2020 season itself, something that will likely continue.
For Haden, part of that genuine excitement to be back in pads, on the gridiron with his teammates has come from just getting this far.
“We didn’t play any OTAs. We haven’t had anything. This is the closest we’ve had to anything [normal,” Haden said. “I’ve been playing football now, this is going to be my 11th year, and having training camp this year in the stadium, being able to come in to work every day and being at Heinz Field is just kind of …”
Haden trailed off. It’s a tough to be genuinely excited for anything these days, and the knowledge that what has happened at Heinz Field thus far is a fragile thing is always looming. COVID-19 outbreaks shut down several college football and MLB teams after they got back to playing or practicing in similar circumstances to what the Steelers have done.
“The world is a little off right now,” Haden admitted. “Just being able to get into some normalcy and being able to play the sport that I love and being able to come in and have training camp at Heinz is just a blessing. I’m not taking any of that for granted.”
His teammates don’t seem to be taking it for granted, either, and that’s part of the reason to be excited. With Haden and nine other starters returning from what was already a top-flight defense, the Steelers not only have a chance to play, but to make a significant impact on the field in 2020.
“You have guys that are in their primes or just young guys that just love the game and just want to be great,” Haden said of his secondary mates. “It is coming up on three years that I was released from the Browns, August 30, 2017. Being able to make it back to the Pro Bowl, being able to be on the team with contenders, great players on defense and the defensive line. Just so much talent. I want to be apart of it and I know what it is like to be on the other side. I’m just very excited and just want to continue to bring that energy and play well.”
In addition to supplying the talent, the Steelers will also have to manufacture their own energy this season, as well. It seems likely that few, if any games at Heinz Field will be played with a significant number of fans, meaning that the usual energy provided to the team by the Black and Gold faithful will be lacking. That’s particularly going to impact the Steelers, who are well supported at home and on the road.
“Think of a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of home fan support,” posed Steelers tight end Vance McDonald on Tuesday. “They might be in a popular travel are where they get a lot of fans for the visiting team. They’re at a disadvantage even in their home stadium. You’re just removing all of those variables and moving parts.”
Especially for the Steelers defense, they’re used to their own intimidating presences being amplified by a chorus of 70,000 for home games. Haden and company will have to make up the difference.
“[T.J.] Watt, he is a very energetic, hype and always screaming at each other out there. [Devin] Bush, Mike Hilton talks his trash. Minkah [Fitzpatrick] is very passionate. We have a lot of dudes at the end of the day that are very hyped and just excited and energetic dudes,” Haden said. “While we have been out here for camp, we have just been doing the same things. We can hear each other, we can talk. Everybody can make that communication. It is definitely different.
“We have a lot of passionate players that keep the energy up.”