“Do whatever it takes”.
That was Cameron Heyward’s response when he was asked what would be required of him this year as a leader of a group of players who combine to form a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in their crosshairs. The Pittsburgh Steelers are just such a team, but it’s never an easy road to get there.
Heyward should know. He was a 31st-overall draft pick in 2011, which means that the Steelers in 2010 were on the losing end of a Super Bowl title match. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs entirely in his second and third seasons, were one-and-done in the Wildcard Round twice, and finally won their first playoff game in his tenure last season.
“Until we get a Super Bowl, the job is not done”, he said to reporters in a recent interview aired on Steeler Nation Radio. “That means growing out here, growing in practice, growing in every way possible. I’ve got to continue to get better. I’ve got to lead by example, but I’ve also got to keep guys accountable”.
Heyward is the elder statesman of the defensive line, entering his sixth season. Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers are entering just their third seasons. L.T. Walton is a sophomore player, Javon Hargrave a rookie. Only Ricardo Mathews has been around, but this is his first year in Pittsburgh.
Heyward knows that this is his unit, his group, and he knows that, by and large, this is his defense, more than perhaps anybody else. He is the nucleus and the trend-setter, the example that everybody looks to follow, and that carries with it a teaching obligation.
“When there’s one thing that can be changed”, he said about role in being the leader for others, “whether it’s running to the ball, or catching that pass, because you’re understanding the situation, and letting them know, ‘that means when you get to the game, it should already be second-nature because we’ve already addressed it’”.
Heyward’s hustle and drive were already well-known in Pittsburgh, and if he didn’t already have it in himself, then veteran Brett Keisel certainly hammered the point home. But he also sets the example in all things, including the importance of recognizing specific situations, both in games and on the practice field in preparation for them.
“We’re doing things now. We have all these different situations that Coach T gives us where we get to maximize that”, he said, no doubt referencing Tomlin’s use of situational football with Seven Shots, the goal line drill, and other drills. “It’s just about taking advantage of opportunities you get”.
The Steelers have a tremendous opportunity in front of them to make a serious run at an unprecedented seventh Lombardi trophy, as they yet remain the only team to have six, or ‘one for the other thumb’. While the offense will carry more than their fair share of the load, a successful title run will require Heyward and his defensive teammates to meet them as close to halfway as they can.