From the sounds of it, the hamstring injury that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward suffered during the course of the team’s 31-13 victory over the Jets on Sunday is going to be an injury significant enough to cause him to miss some time, making it the first significant injury of his playing career.
It also ends Heyward’s consecutive games played streak, which stretched from the first game of his rookie season in 2011 to the fifth game of his sixth season in the league on Sunday. That streak of 85 games was among the longest active streaks for defensive linemen in the league.
And it wasn’t the first injury that Heyward has had to deal with this year. You will recall that he suffered a high ankle sprain during the course of the Steelers’ second preseason game, which was an injury that already threatened to cause him to miss the season opener, if not beyond that.
In that instance, however, Heyward defied the odds, and was able to return sooner than is typically projected for players who suffer an injury of the nature and to the degree that he did at that time. It is for this same reason that head coach Mike Tomlin during yesterday’s press conference almost seemed hesitant to count out his ‘superhuman’ recovery abilities by ruling him out for Sunday’s game.
Heyward also suffered a knee injury during the Steelers’ second game of the regular season, but he overcame that as well. While he missed the team’s first day of practice the following week, he returned on a limited basis for Thursday, and then was a full go on Friday, and started on Sunday.
It is not that Heyward has shown a remarkable ability over the course of his career, in spite of the position that he plays, to avoid injuries, necessarily, although his conditioning and football intelligence no doubt serve their role in keeping him healthier than another player in his position, with his workload, might otherwise be.
It is more so that he has displayed over the course of his career a remarkable resilience and endurance, not only bearing pain and injuries well, but recovering from them quickly. Certainly, it is a mixture of good genes and personal responsibility, but it has unquestionably served both him and the Steelers well over the course of the past six seasons.
Of course, Heyward’s is not the only significant streak in the Steelers’ secondary. Cornerback William Gay, originally drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, has missed exactly the same amount of games that head coach Mike Tomlin has: zero.
As a matter of fact, Sunday will be Gay’s 150th consecutive regular season game played, from the first of his rookie season until now. granted, it is easier to stay healthy at the position that he plays, as opposed to playing in the trenches, and he has not always been a starter, but his 10-year consistency of availability is one of the great active streaks in the league.