The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2016 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Never the less, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: Cameron Heyward
Position: Defensive End
Experience: 6 Years
It’s pretty surprising in hindsight to see how well the Steelers’ defense played down the stretch, comparatively, following Cameron Heyward’s season-ending injury against the Cowboys. They went on to win their next nine games and rode that momentum all the way into the AFC Championship game, though that one didn’t exactly turn out as planned.
Instead of taking that as a demonstration of the apparent reality that Heyward’s influence and importance to the defense has been overstated, I rather view it as confirmation that this is a young and growing unit that will be boosted by the return of one of its elder statesmen and arguably still its best and most consistent player.
There were times in the early stretch of the season where it seemed that Heyward was the only one making plays. He had three sacks during their handy victory over the Chiefs after overcoming a preseason injury, but then he battled another injury soon after that, and the defense was ill-equipped to handle things without him over a two-game stretch.
His teammates handled the pressure of shouldering a heavier load without him on the field once he went down for the season, but there was no shortage of players willing to continue to sing Heyward’s praises about how much he still meant to the team from the sideline, particularly Stephon Tuitt.
The 2016 season was very much unlike any other in Heyward’s career, if not simply for the fact that it was the only one in which he was forced to miss time due to injury. He had been an ironman up to that point, never missing a game in his first five seasons.
He is not only a defensive captain, he is also a leader, and one of the players that the other defenders turn to for whatever it is that they need, from tips to beat a block or simply added fire to give extra effort on the field.
Heyward has been a tone-setter since he got here, and that didn’t stop when he went down with an injury. He remained vocal on the sideline, and he will get back to letting his play do the talking in 2017. The Steelers may be all the better for it after having been given the opportunity to test out some of its depth.