There is really no debating that the loss of veteran defensive end Cameron Heyward is a major blow to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive efforts. We have seen, finally, what this defense looks without him on the field, and it wasn’t very pretty. On Sunday, apparently, we also saw what it looks like when he tries to play through a torn pectoral muscle.
We will not be seeing that again, because Heyward revealed via social media yesterday that he is not going to return to the field this season due to the injury that he suffered during the course of the game. but even before he revealed that information, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already understood that he will still have a very real presence on this team through the remainder of the season.
Roethlisberger was doing his usual radio spot yesterday when he was asked about Heyward. At the time, of course, he did not yet know about Heyward’s status, which came later in the afternoon, so his comments on the radio were speculative about an uncertain situation.
“That would be devastating for us”, he said about the injury being potentially serious, “both as a leader and a football player. He is a force out there, and a lot of fun to watch on the football field”. He expressed hope that it was not going to be serious, but he also accepted the reality that it could be.
Talking about the event of a serious injury, Roethlisberger said, “if it is [serious], I know what we’ll get from him. We’ll get that vocal leader, a locker room leader”. Heyward is, of course, already a locker room leader, and has been named a team captain because of his leadership, but the situation had Roethlisberger recalling similar situations in the past.
“It reminds me of guys in the past like Brett Keisel, like Aaron Smith even, when they had their biceps or triceps and they were out for a little while” he told the host. “They became more locker room leaders, and still around, and still doing things to really lift and be a leader for this team. We hope and pray that he’s not lost on the football field, but we know that he’ll still be there regardless”.
Smith, of course, had a couple of significant injuries at the end of this career, but the most significant one came during the 2010 season. He suffered an arm injury, but the Steelers left him on the roster in the hope that he would be able to return. All the way up to the Super Bowl, he did not. But the potential for his return, and his presence in the locker room, motivated others.
Keisel also dealt with an arm injury just a couple of years ago that ended his career, though it came later in the season, but it still served as a rallying point for his teammates, especially along the defensive line. Coincidentally, Da Beard weighed in on the bad news for his friend and former teammate on Twitter:
— Brett Keisel (@bkeisel99) November 16, 2016
Last season, when Maurkice Pouncey missed the entire season, and dealt with several complications that required multiple surgeries, he remained engaged with his teammates, and his teammates with him. His line mates even held meetings at his house to keep him involved. Just because he wasn’t on the field doesn’t mean his presence was gone. The same will be true of Heyward.