Working hard on Labor Day

Most people woke up a little later than normal this morning, a little more relaxed, enjoying the Labor Day holiday.

Steelers’ players though, were the complete opposite.

It was a busy day, which kicked off with Joe Haden signing a new three-year contract, something that will keep him with the Steelers through the 2021 season. Haden said he was thrilled to get it done and be able to put his full focus on preparing for the New England Patriots this week.

“It’s really exciting. I am happy it’s out of the way,” said Haden. “It’s been going on for a little bit, since camp started. To finally get it done, a week before the game where I can just fully focus on New England, I think it’s great.

“I wanted to be here a lot, just the locker room. I have a lot of friends here, made a lot of relationships. I love the way the coaching staff is, I love the organization, I have a really good relationship with Coach T(omlin). It’s definitely where I wanted to be, so I am happy I got to work it out.”

And speaking of working, that is exactly what the Steelers were doing on Monday. They open the regular season on Sunday Night Football against the defending champion New England Patriots on the road, something that is going to be a good test right from the start.

“It puts us on the right page and gives us the opportunity to start the season off right going against a good team,” said Haden. “It’s a good measuring stick of knowing where you are. If we can start off right with them it gets us off on the right foot.”

The Steelers defeated the Patriots in their last meeting, a 17-10 win at Heinz Field last December. This time it’s on the Patriots turf, and they are going to be in celebratory mode as this is their first regular season game since winning the title.

“You like going against the best. We feel like we are the best and that is one of the humps we have to get over,” said Javon Hargrave. “We are excited about this game. It will be crazy. In this business we use that as motivation. We feed off that.”

A fast start to the season is something everyone in the Steelers locker room knows can pay dividends come January. Last year the team got off to a slow start, going 1-2-1 in the first four weeks, and when January rolled around, they found themselves out of the playoffs. Missing the postseason is something that still sits with them, and they have no plans for a repeat performance.

“We think about the plays we didn’t make,” said Hargrave. “We think about the games we lost. We think about all of that and take it in and try not to make the same mistakes.

“We are looking good on defense. Guys are older, fast, we are getting good at our craft and it’s starting to show. We have a lot of reps under our belt, we are fast, we can move, it’s an advantage for us. You can’t not like speed. It’s all about speed in this game. It’s exciting to see. We can’t wait to see it in action.”

He said it:

James Washington on the group of wide receivers: “It’s good this year. We are a tight knit group. There is nothing we don’t do together. Always in the huddle talking, going over plays, in the room we are tight. Off the field we have group chats. That helps us out. You never feel like you are alone. Even if you are messing up you are doing it with someone else.”

Ben Roethlisberger on being named a captain again: “It’s an amazing honor just because of that, it’s voted on by the teammates. It means a lot. It never gets old, with all of the tradition, the people who have been captains on this team, it means a lot to me.”

Javon Hargrave to a reporter when asked how the Steelers beat the Patriots last season: “We just made plays. I can’t really give you the game plan. We just played good football.”

Ulysees Gilbert, the third of the team’s sixth-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, on what it was like this weekend waiting to find out if he made the team’s 53-man roster: “It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a blessing. I am so grateful to this organization for giving me a chance. I am ready to get started. You try not to think about it too much. I kept myself busy. Hung out with friends. I went to the movies, chilled and relaxed. My agent did call me and tell me I am good and made it. I saw the roster after that. I tried to stay off social media.”

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