Anybody who loves the game of football loves to play the game of football, and there can be no doubt that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward qualifies as such a person. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t mind seeing less snaps if it meant getting him and his running mate, Stephon Tuitt, to the playoffs healthier and with more gas left in the tank.
Last season, when healthy, the Steelers’ two starting defensive ends threatened to play about 90 percent of the team’s snaps toward the end of the year, and into the playoffs. You can bet there is a reason that Heyward has talked multiple times over the course of the offseason about finding more depth for the defensive line.
“I can stay in, we’ve been doing it”, he said when asked about his playing time and if he can keep up the pace yesterday on Steeler Nation Radio, “but my goal is to be ready for the game and be ready for the fourth quarter, because that’s when games are decided”.
In order to be ready for the end of the game, and the end of the season, of course, he needs to be able to take some time off in between, and that means having some other players in who can take on some of those snaps. “If we can get a rotation, that’s great”, he said, “but if the cards we get dealt—we only have so many guys—then I’m gonna play. I’m not gonna moan about it or cry about it. It just means that we’ve got to make more plays”.
Heyward talked about the depth that some of the best defenses in the league have and what that has meant to their success. “The great D-lines have a good rotation, and then they’re fresh for the playoff run”, he said. “If we can get that and have the continuity where it continues to grow—or if we’re just blowing out teams and we’re done by the second quarter, I’d be happy with that, too”, he joked.
The sixth-year veteran was asked about whether the depth problem comes down to inexperience, but he pointed to two players that he felt were sticking out. “There’s inexperience, but there are also guys like L.T. Walton who have had a year that we’re counting on a lot to grow. Then you’ve got Ricardo Mathews, who’s played in San Diego, [for whom] it’s just about grasping the play book”.
“If we can get those two guys to really take the next step”, he said about Walton, a 2016 sixth-round draft pick, and Mathews, a free agent signing this offseason from San Diego, “we’re just about including them and trying to make them grow in our defense”.
Though Walton spent all season on the 53-man roster, he only dressed when there was an injury, and still then only sparsely played. Much more will be expected of him in his second season. Mathews, meanwhile, saw most of his playing time in the nickel, which is what the Steelers primarily run. The hope is that he can be a ready contributor to spell Heyward and Tuitt.