Joe Haden takes first step toward turnover turnaround for Steelers defense
It’s one of the top defensive talking points for the Steelers this offseason.
A unit that ranked 29th in the league with 15 takeaways and 28th in the league with eight interceptions last season will simply have to force more turnovers to have any kind of success.
On the very first play of the seven shots two-point conversion style drill on the very first day of organized team activities Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, cornerback Joe Haden joined the conversation.
Haden stepped in front of tight end Vance McDonald in the flat and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass to the delight of his defensive teammates.
“It was me and Vance out there on an island,” Haden said. “He ran an outside release, so I thought it was going to be a fade. Then when he sunk his hips down to run a comeback, I just undercut it. And then I looked back and the ball was there, so I had to pick it off.”
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Haden was aware of the obvious glass half-empty interpretation of the play. His quarterback, who led the league with 16 interceptions thrown last season, began OTAs with another one.
He quickly dismissed that pessimistic view of things, though.
“Ben is a wily vet. He’s going to be good,” Haden said. “That’s me just trying to make a play and get my opportunities up.”
Haden said there were no schematic or systemic problems within the Steelers defense that led to the paucity of picks last season. Turning things around requires only one simple adjustment, as far as he’s concerned.
“We’ve got to catch the ones that hit us in the face,” Haden said. “If we would have caught a lot of the picks that we dropped, I’d say we at least dropped six or seven. A couple of them I dropped. Unfortunately me and (Sean Davis) ran into each other for one of them. We have a lot of opportunities out there that we left on the field. Just the ones that hit us in the face.
“We got a D line putting pressure on them that they’re going to continue to do. We’ve just got to make sure we catch the ones that hit us and we’ll be fine.”
Haden offered only one caveat.
“Don’t be thirsty for them,” he said. “We’ve got to have pass break-ups. Don’t start going out of character, but when the ball comes to you, make sure you catch it.”
The Steelers added two cornerbacks in the offseason, signing Steve Nelson away from Kansas City and using a third-round pick on Justin Layne from Michigan State. Neither is known as a ballhawk, per se – Nelson had four interceptions last year while Layne had three in his college career – but Haden is confident the Steelers have the personnel in the defensive backfield to force more turnovers.
“I think you can work on it,” Haden said. “You can work on your catching ability. Some dudes are really good at creating turnovers in college, as far as ball searching, forcing fumbles and definitely creating picks. But once you get in the league, if you’re in position, as long as you have good hands and you can catch the ones that come to you, you can make it happen.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .