Joe Haden is dealing with an ankle contusion, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced Tuesday during his weekly press conference. Haden, Pittsburgh’s best cornerback who is entering his 10th NFL season, sustained the injury during last Wednesday’s training camp practice from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Tomlin did not say when he expects Haden to return to practice.
Haden is entering the final year of his three-year, $27 million contract that he signed with the Steelers just before the start of the 2017 regular season. He was quickly snatched up by Pittsburgh after being released by the Browns, the team that drafted Haden in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Haden’s representatives had begun conversations with the Steelers about a possible extension for Haden prior to his injury. Haden, who is due $10 million this season, has said on numerous occasions this offseason that he would like to finish his career with the Steelers. The 30-year-old has made a significant impact on Pittsburgh’s defense over the past two seasons. The Steelers finished fifth in pass defense in 2017 after finishing 16th in that department in 2016. They were 10th in the league in pass defense in 2018 despite not having a consistent No. 2 cornerback opposite Haden.
With Haden out, rookie cornerback Justin Layne was inserted into the starting lineup for Pittsburgh’s first preseason game. Layne, a third-round pick who broke up 24 passes in three seasons at Michigan State, struggled in his NFL preseason debut, as Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston went after Layne while leading the Buccaneers to a touchdown on the game’s opening drive.
Tomlin offered an honest assessment when asked about Layne’s performance.
“It looked a little big for him at times,” Tomlin said, “and we talked openly about that today. And that’s what I mean when I say that we’re going to be really transparent.”
Tomlin has told each of his players to focus more on the quality of who you’re competing against over the individual statistics that you’re accumulating during the preseason. Tomlin said that while fellow rookie — inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III — enjoyed a strong preseason debut from a statistical standpoint (Gilbert recorded three tackles and 1.5 sacks), his breakout plays occurred during defensive snaps 80-89 against less talented opponents than the starters Layne went up against Thursday night.
“Justin Layne is a very young guy who stopped into a stadium for the first time,” Tomlin said, “and had an opportunity to start and start against an NFL starting quarterback because of injury and lack of availability of others. Maybe not necessarily because of what he did to get in that spot. Such is life in football and particularly in football this time of year. Sure it was gonna be a valuable experience for him, but not necessarily a positive experience for him.”
With regard to the rest of the injury front, Tomlin said that center Maurkice Pouncey is day-to-day while declining to detail what Pouncey is dealing with. Tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson is dealing with a soft tissue injury, while Pro Bowl offensive lineman David DeCastro is dealing with soreness associated with the rigors of training camp.
The Steelers returned to practice on Tuesday after getting Sunday and Monday off in the wake of the receivers coach Darryl Drake’s death. Drake, a longtime NFL assistant coach, died unexpectedly Sunday at the age of 62.
“We’re all devastated by that. I really can’t think of any other appropriate words,” Tomlin said while addressing Drake’s passing. “Our time and attention in recent days have been spent in support of the Drake family. Ms. Sheila and Darryl’s daughters and extended family. Many of us have had an opportunity to spend time with them through this. They’ve been amazing and just making arrangements and adjusting and so forth, we’ve tried to be as supportive organizationally as we can be to them in what has been a very difficult time.”