PITTSBURGH — The Steelers had a lot of turnover in their secondary from 2020 to 2021, with the release of Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton’s signing with the Cincinnati Bengals.
But the biggest constant in the team’s secondary remains. Joe Haden will return to the Steelers for his 12th season in the NFL and fifth with the Steelers in 2021.
With so many young defensive backs and namely cornerbacks, the Steelers are leaning upon Haden’s veteran presence to help the green defensive backs like James Pierre, Justin Layne, and others. For Pierre, he says Haden’s influence has had a big impact on him.
“He always tells me I can play,” Pierre said. “For him to tell me I can play, there can be no drop-offs. He always tells me, when I can get in, no pressure, just play. You have to be even-keeled, no moment is too big for you. He just motivates me.”
Secondary coach Teryl Austin is always impressed by the leadership and veteran value that Haden can bring to the table. He says having Haden there, along with returning starting safeties Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick makes him feel more comfortable about the secondary’s ability to stay afloat given all the change.
“With the veteran leadership that Joe, Minkah, and Terrell provide, I think it’s valued,” Austin said. “So, anybody new that comes into the secondary will get help from those guys. That veteran leadership is really important when you have turnover because they help the new guys understand the expectations of the meetings, of the practices, of the position they play, and of how to play defense here in Pittsburgh.”
For Mike Tomlin, the return of Haden calms the new players in the secondary, which is something he views as a valuable asset.
“Joe is just a natural leader,” Tomlin said. “He wears that in a very natural way, a very welcoming way. He calms the waters, if you will. He’s a guy that displays veteran presence and poise almost in all circumstances”
Entering the final year of his contract in 2021, Haden will be helping the Steelers in a large capacity as they try to bridge the future and present together in the secondary. His leadership behind the scenes will be one big boon that can help the new-look secondary impress in 2021.