New series we’re kicking off here to get us through the upcoming dog days of the offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Cam Heyward – Show The Young Players How Do To The Hustle
It’s certainly difficult to poke holes in Heyward’s game. I’m sure he’ll admit to areas he needs to improve in but from 30,000 feet, anything from this blogger is nitpicking. He’s a top three player at his position so hey, I don’t have any stones to throw.
But like William Gay or Lawrence Timmons, he’ll have to step up and show the young guys the way. The coaching will come from John Mitchell, one of the best to do it, but Heyward will be a leader by example when it comes to showing the fanatical effort needed to play defensive line for this team.
His motor and will are well documented. He learned it from Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and has already passed it down to Stephon Tuitt. The duo have become some of the hardest workers on the team, especially on the field. There’s on quit, no let-up, despite playing close to every down. They’ve bought into Mitchell’s mantra and the young or new additions must do the same. That’s looking at you, Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, and even a UDFA like Giorgio Newberry.
I want to show just two quick examples of Heyward’s chase. Twice last season he made a tackle on a play at least 20 yards downfield. And here they are.
Week Eight against Cincinnati. Andy Dalton, under siege, checks down to Gio Bernard. He zig-zags his way downfield but Heyward doesn’t slow down, slamming him from behind. If Heyward doesn’t chase, it’s not impossible to think Bernard scores and at best, it’s likely he gains another 5-10 yards. Mike Mitchell isn’t guaranteed to make the tackle against the slippery back.
Five weeks later against the Indianapolis Colts. A dump off to Frank Gore who makes one man miss, bounces off another, and is off to the races. But there’s Heyward, full boar, and actually gets Gore to slow down, trying to make one more move. If Heyward isn’t there, Gore probably sprints full speed.
Heyward bear hugs him and they go to the ground after a gain of 34.
Couple other elements to consider.
That first clip happened in the 4th quarter of a hard-nosed rivalry game. It was the third play of the series and Heyward was coming off a 14 play drive in which he played every snap. And the “break” he got was only a minute of game time, 6:39 to 5:34. And he’s still running like it’s the first play of the game.
The second one took place in the third quarter against the Colts. It was only the second play of the drive and Heyward did get a big break between series but he had already played all nine snaps of the quarter. After this sprint, the Steelers took him out. For two plays. Then he was thrust back in and finished the series like the beast that he is.
Standard is the standard. That’s what Mike Tomlin preaches every week. And it’s what Heyward exemplifies each game.
People talk about how conditioned of an athlete Antonio Brown is. And of course, he is. He’s a freak. But Heyward’s conditioning and effort, pound for pound, is even more impressive to me because of his size, snap count, and the nature of playing in the trenches. Cam Heyward never seems to tire. So no one else can use it as an excuse.