For a team that’s hopefully destined to come up with more interceptions, the first play of OTAs couldn’t have worked out any better.
We’ll let cornerback Joe Haden explain:
“It was me and (tight end) Vance (McDonald) out there on the island. 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 under-cut it.
“I looked back and the ball was there so I had to pick it off.”
It was an opening statement that resonated in “Seven Shots,” the Steelers’ practice-opening, two-point conversation/short-yardage drill.
It worked out so well for the defense in that particular instant on Tuesday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex that it almost appeared scripted.
“I just told Joe I did it on purpose to get him ready for the year,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked.
The Steelers’ inability to collect interceptions last season was no laughing matter.
They finished with eight.
Only Green Bay, Detroit and Arizona (seven apiece) and San Francisco (two) registered fewer.
The Steelers participate in day 1 of the 2019 Organized Team Activities at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex
Haden estimated the Steelers could have had approximately twice as many interceptions had they only been able to catch the ball when it was thrown to them.
“We gotta catch the ones that hit us in the face,” he maintained. “I would say we at least dropped six or seven. A couple of them I dropped, unfortunately me and ’S.D.’ (free safety Sean Davis) ran into each other for one of them.
“We had a lot of opportunities out there that we left on the field.”
Cornerback Brian Allen was also rewarded upon the opening of OTAs by being more of an opportunist than a ball-hawk.
Haden hopes that’s a trend that gains momentum.
“‘B.A.’ had one, too, so I think we had two picks today,” he said in summation of OTA No. 1. “As many more practices as we have, just make sure the ones that hit us in the hands, we catch.
“Don’t be thirsty for them, we have to have pass break-ups. Don’t just start going out of character, but when the ball comes to you make sure you catch it.”
The downside of interceptions at this early juncture is they’re also thrown by Steelers.
Roethlisberger threw an NFL-leading 16 of those last season, another contributing factor in the Steelers’ minus 11 in takeaway/giveaway differential.
Haden isn’t concerned in the least about the throwing end of such turnovers, such is his faith in the Steelers’ franchise QB.
He doesn’t think fans should be, either, when digesting the pluses and minuses of OTAs.
“They should be excited I got a pick,” he insisted. “Ben is a wily vet, he’s going to be good.
“That’s just me trying to make a play and trying to get my opportunities up.”