The Pittsburgh Steelers have long tried to retain a veteran presence among the wide receivers group, arguably the one position in the game most prone to producing the proverbial ‘diva’. In recent years, the trend began with Hines Ward, and after he retired, that role was passed on to Jerricho Cotchery.
When Cotchery left in free agency, the Steelers signed Darrius Heyward-Bey, who despite only being 26 at the time was thrust into the role of mentorship, which is a part that he admits he had to learn how to play.
“To be honest with you, when I came here, the leadership role was kind of given to me,” he told Chris Adamski in recalling his first season with the Steelers in 2014. “At first I didn’t know how to do that because nobody had ever shown me that before. But I kind of just learned day by day, week by week. And by the time Year 1 here was done, that just became my makeup. That became who I was”.
And that’s who he remains, still the veteran of the group, now 30 years old and entering his ninth season. He has mentored every wide receiver on the roster, perhaps none more so than the troubled Martavis Bryant, who is looking to regain his status in football and in his life after serving a year-long suspension.
But Bryant wasn’t the only one. Last year’s rookie draft pick, Demarcus Ayers, also told Adamski that he looks up to Heyward-Bey. “He’s a guy I always lean on”, Ayers said. “Whenever I need help or need a big question answered, I am definitely going to DHB”.
Not Antonio Brown.
But even though he was a former top-10 pick, and thus the most prone to diva-ism, Heyward-Bey never had that in him, and as he flamed out as a ‘bust’, his lack of ego allowed him to transition into the supplemental on-field presence and locker-room guide that he has become since then.
He even dabbled in legitimate coaching during rookie minicamp, as he essentially filled in for Richard Mann, who had undergone knee surgery in the offseason, according to Adamski. He stepped in by the end of the first day, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said to him, “‘I was waiting for you to say something!”, he told the reporter.
“I have played the game for a long time. I have been the guy who started, I’ve been the guy who played special teams, I have been the guy who was standing on the sidelines watching. So I just try to give my knowledge, pass it on and hope for the best for those young guys”, he said.
But in the meantime, he is also vividly aware that he has a roster battle on his hands. “I’m just trying to keep my seat. It’s comfortable, too”. No matter what position he is in, however, that will not stop him from helping others around him grow, even if it costs him in the end.