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The man behind Joe Haden’s career resurgence with the Pittsburgh Steelers

When the Pittsburgh Steelers brought in Joe Haden prior to the season, they weren’t sure what they were getting. What they got was a man re-energized from the inside out.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision to sign Joe Haden, who had just been released from the Cleveland Browns, it was likely they weren’t 100-percent sure which type of player they were getting. Sure, Haden was a Pro Bowl player for the Browns, but injuries during the past few seasons had hindered his overall progress and performance on the football field.

Preparing to start anew in Pittsburgh, Haden was determined to fix his body and debunk the “injury prone” tag which had been placed on him during his final years in Cleveland.

Enter Alex Skacel of “rehab/perform/recover”.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler was given insider access to Haden’s relationship with Skacel, their process of getting Haden healthy, and how the two work with the Steelers’ training staff.

This all started with Haden wanting to return to his Pro Bowl form, and this was while he was still with Cleveland.

“Is he injury-prone? Is he getting old?” Haden told Fowler. “I’m feeling young and vibrant.”

While the Browns were okay letting Haden walk, the Steelers jumped at the opportunity to bring in a veteran cornerback. And Haden’s performance hasn’t disappointed.

“Joe decided he wanted to be back to his best, great at his position,” Skacel said. “You get what you put in, and Joe bought in from the beginning. It was about getting him away from the weak movements because when you get injured, you change how you move, and it affects other parts of your body.”

With Haden doing his own rehab with an outside source, Fowler wondered if this would have a Tom Brady/TB12 type issue with the Steelers’ organization, but it hasn’t. Skacel reportedly meets with the team physicians once a week to track and monitor progress.

“I work for the players, but I’m not here to contradict the team,” Skacel said. “I’m here to help the team.”

Haden has changed a lot with his body regimen, including a 3-hour process prior to games which includes everything from dry needling, cupping, glute activation exercises, stretching and soft tissue massages. All of this, and more, to stay on top of his game.

“Once you start getting a little older, you start getting slow, and once you lose a step and you can’t stay on top, that’s when it’s time to move on to a safety or something different,” Haden said. “So for me, my health and my long speed is what I need to do what I do -- because the concepts of football are getting easier and easier.”

As for the Steelers, they can’t be happier with the player they acquired prior to the regular season. Although Haden did suffer a fractured fibula, he’s been everything advertised, and then some, for the Pittsburgh secondary. The culminating event of Haden’s 2017 season might have been when he shadowed Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and held him to 65 yards receiving. Just another feather in Haden’s cap, but I’m sure he would tell you the ultimate feather he wants more than anything is a Super Bowl ring.