LATROBE, Pa. — Artie Burns and Joe Haden don’t believe the Pittsburgh Steelers have a clear-cut No. 1 cornerback.
The two feel they share that role.
Haden (University of Florida) has been a top cornerback in the league throughout his career and Burns, a 2016 first-round pick, feels like he’s starting to come into his own as he enters his third season. The two hope a full offseason and training camp together can help a young group of Steelers defensive backs regain some swagger.
“Right now, I’m just trying to show him the way I go about my business,” Haden said. “Training camp is one of the biggest spots where we can see growth and we can see what the offseason did.”
Haden spent his first seven pro seasons in Cleveland. He feels an entire spring of organized team activities and minicamp with Burns and the Steelers will only prove beneficial as the team works through training camp and the preseason.
“I’m trying to understand the whole defense, not just the corners and safety, but also the linebackers and defensive linemen,” Haden said. “I’m just trying to get the whole system from the ground up and get an overall grasp of the defense.”
Cleveland released Haden on the eve of the 2017 regular season and the Steelers immediately acted. They quickly signed the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the hope he could give a young secondary an instant jolt.
“Having a veteran guy in your room that got to the level everybody wants to get to,” Burns said, “you kind of sit back and think that you can learn from him to get to that point.”
The Steelers did just that last season.
Pittsburgh ranked 16th against the pass in 2016, but Haden provided a necessary boost as the Steelers ended fifth in passing yards allowed. A 45-point outburst by Jacksonville in the AFC divisional playoff marred an otherwise strong season.
“I think the communication was the biggest thing for us, just no blown coverages,” Haden said. “In the Jacksonville game, there were a couple times where people were just running free. We have the ability, we have the players, we just have to be on the same page and make sure everybody’s covering their man.”
That has been the focus for Burns. He has carried a noticeably different, more confident swagger during training camp practices. He’s still locked into regular one-on-one practice battles with four-time All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, a daily matchup Burns welcomes.
“Ever since I got here it’s been a battle with (Brown),” Burns said. “It’s just something I expect from myself. I don’t even request it. I just step up, we go at it and go to work.”
It has already paid off for the third-year cornerback.
Burns jumped Brown’s slant route during the team’s first padded practice and picked off Landry Jones’s pass in the end zone. He also jumped a Ben Roethlisberger pass and came up with an interception that would’ve been returned for a touchdown.
Burns said that sort of intuition comes with experience.
“You can feel the speed of the receiver,” Burns said. “A play can only go for so long, so once you figure out the timing of it, that’s when you have a chance to make a play on the ball.”
Burns seeks similar game-changing plays alongside Haden in the secondary this season.
“(Haden) is helping us in certain situations that he has already been put in before,” Burns said. “That’s what Joe is doing for us.”