The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Cameron Heyward
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 5 Years
Every year, the role and performance of Cameron Heyward takes a step forward. Finally off his rookie contract after he and the Steelers worked out a contract extension to get him off his fifth-year club option, Heyward helped lead a burgeoning defense to a season in which they made timely plays and held opponents to under 20 points per game.
The unit as a whole was able to make strides forward in the team’s first season under Keith Butler, and Heyward’s leadership, both on and off the field, serve as part of the key nucleus of a unit that figures to be more impactful in the future.
The defensive end led the Steelers in sacks last season with 7.5, and he nearly matched that this season with seven, which again led the team, but this time he had a lot more help from his teammates, as the defense racked up 48 sacks.
Once again with over 50 tackles, and with a career-best 39 solo tackles, Heyward also chipped in a couple of passes defensed, and one of his seven sacks during the regular season produced a fumble that the defense was able to recover. He also recorded another strip sack in the Wildcard round in the playoffs.
It becomes less and less interesting with each passing year to simply discuss Heyward as a Steelers defensive lineman and to highlight his performance, because he has become so consistent in what he does that he has become taken for granted. The fact that he has played in 80 straight games—that is, every game of his career—is not to be ignored.
The veteran is entering the prime of his career, if he is not already in it, which is why the Steelers were able to get away with running him nearly 90 percent of the time during the course of the season, but he and the team both know that is not a sustainable strategy.
He was given major assistance with the emergence of Stephon Tuitt this past season, who finished the team second in sacks, just a half of a sack behind Heyward, but the team needs to find a valuable rotation player to take some of the pressure off of their two thoroughbreds in the trenches.
Heyward proved that he will do whatever is asked of him this past season, and he retained a very commendable level of consistency in carrying out his workload, all the while helping to carry an emerging unit. He was deserving of Pro Bowl recognition this season; perhaps his first is just on the horizon.