In case you haven’t been following up during the course of this offseason, one of the major themes around here has been the idea of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their locker room culture and a sense of leadership, and there are pretty obvious reasons for why that is.
Of course, the Steelers have parted ways with a number of high-character locker room personalities this offseason, and in recent offseasons as well. They’ve also had a stumble or two in the leadership department, allowing a free agent signing to come in and serve as a negative influence on one of their star players. The pair ended up getting arrested, and now the Steelers are on the hook for a three-game suspension for their starting running back.
So that’s the long and short of why we’ve chosen to harp on the topic of the locker room leaders of the past, present, and future over the course of the past few weeks. The defense has been hit especially hard in this department, but as I as well as many other have observed, it appears that it’s time for fifth-year defensive end Cameron Heyward to fill much of that void.
It’s been slowly coming along for the past two years, and we got another taste of that just recently as Phase 1 of the offseason has finally gotten underway.
Heyward spoke to Mike Prisuta for the Steelers’ website about what he sees in store for the defense in the 2015 season, and he echoed head coach Mike Tomlin’s belief that they should be back in contention for being regarded as the best in the league.
Maybe that seems a bit of a stretch to the outside observer, but you certainly can’t deny that that is exactly what you want to hear out of not only one of your best players, but also one of your key young leaders, whom others follow.
“We’ve had a tradition of having great defenses”, Heyward told Prisuta. “Now we have a great offense. Why not have a great defense, as well?”
It’s true that perhaps the greatest shift in power on the Steelers from offense to defense in recent memory may likely have occurred last season, with the offense at last becoming legitimately a top 10 unit in the league, while the defense fell uncharacteristically far, below the top half of the league.
But Pittsburgh cannot believe that it’s a zero-sum game—that better offensive output must coincide with worse defensive output. Last year was just a down year for the defense, and will see an equally productive emergence from young players next season as it looks to catch back up to where the offense now is.
The key is finding the right players for the job, and Heyward believes that many of them are already here and known. “We know our offense can put some points on the board, but I have a lot of faith in our defense. We can be the best defense. We have the guys capable of doing it.”
Still, he recognizes that there is work to be done between now and the start of the regular season. There is still some identifying of contributors yet to take place, and most rightly expect to see a major influx of defensive talent through the draft, who may figure to be bigger year-one contributors than has been the norm over the past decade or so up until recent years.
We got to find some guys, but we’re not just looking to plug holes. As much as we’ve had guys here, we’re looking for guys to be mainstays and looking for guys to produce every day. We’re not just looking for someone to stick in there and say, ‘Hey, just go out and play.’ We’re looking for guys to be successful.