The 2012 Steelers draft has the potential to go down as one of the most important and best draft classes in the modern era of the team. Two first round caliber offensive lineman in David DeCastro and Mike Adams, an eventual replacement for long time defensive stalwart Casey Hampton, new faces at middle linebacker, and others. On paper it already looks like the most impressive draft in a long time.
Don’t forget about the 2011 class though and first round pick out of OSU, Cameron Heyward. He hasn’t gotten much attention this offseason, but that’s usually not an issue when it comes to interior lineman. They prefer to be out of the spotlight. On the defensive side of the ball it is a bit different in that they can make a more visible impact by getting into the backfield to blow up a run play or snag the occasional QB sack. Still though, much is expected and needed out of Cam this season.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Ralph Paulk recently talked with Heyward about his expectations for the upcoming season.
“When you can slow it down, you’re going to have much more success,” said Heyward, a first-round selection in 2011. “I’ve been able to focus on my keys and execute.”
Heyward has higher expectations for himself this season.
“If there’s pressure, there’s pressure. I’m just going to do my job,” he said. “I don’t have to be an all-star. If I’m opening the gap for somebody else — it may not show up in the stats — then we’re winning. I just want to be a part of the mix, so I just have to execute.”
With the departure of familiar faces like Aaron smith and Chris Hoke, it’s time for the young guys to step up and make a name for themselves. For so long the defensive line of the Steelers had the same faces on it year in and year with the only exception being a new backup here and there. Even if Smith wasn’t healthy in the latter years of his career, he was a mentor and teacher on the sidelines for the young guys. Chris Hoke meant as much to the defense as anyone and made his mark on the field but also befriending and aiding the young guys.
In his first season, not much was expected of Cam Heyward because he was a rookie. Defensive line coach John Mitchell and coordinator Dick Lebeau aren’t fond of rookies starting anyway. Still though sometimes they are forced into action, like Heyward was last season. He likely would have gotten some reps anyway in the defensive rotation that the Steelers are known for.
During preseason and in limited action in the regular season, Heyward showed flashes of what the Steelers saw in him that prompted them to take him in the 1st round in 2011. His strength is exception, watching him toss around linemand and fullbacks like ragdolls is inspiring to say the least. He ended up finishing up the season with 13 Tackles, 1 Pass Defensed, 1 Forced Fumble, and 1 Sack.
It typically takes 2-3 years to really feel comfortable in a Steelers defense but you like to see a nice jump in productivity from year one to year two.At times last season you saw the inexperience of Heyward come out where he would get swallowed up by the swarm of blockers in front of him while trying to to track down the line to make a stop but his quick recovery was also there. For a guy that’s 290 lbs, his quick feet are a big asset when trying to slide down the line following the flow of the play and his power will allow him to shed blockers once it all comes together.
Heyward seems to understand his role with the team and realizes how important the down 3 lineman are to the success of the defense. That’s exactly what the Steelers love; a no nonense, humble player who’s willing to do his part for the betterment of the group.
With the youth movement clearly in full swing in Blitzburgh, Heyward’s improvement will help the defense in their continued effort to remain a top rush stopping unit.