It’s just hard to imagine Cameron Heyward as the sort of player who would ever cut a corner. The veteran Pittsburgh Steelers defensive linemen has had a relentless work ethic since his rookie offseason, during which he angered veterans because of the intensity with which he practiced, as though he were playing in the Super Bowl.
But that’s why he practices that way. He wants to play in a Super Bowl. He never has. He just missed out on that, in fact. The Steelers drafted him 31st-overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. The team that drafts 31st is the team that just lost the Super Bowl the season prior.
Pittsburgh got close in 2016, reaching the AFC Championship game, before being unceremoniously dumped by the eventual Super Bowl champions. The 2017 season looked to be perhaps that next step, with a 13-3 regular season, but disaster struck once again once the postseason rolled around.
Heyward was asked by a reporter during OTAs as they wrapped up why he was out there for every OTA, even though he is an All-Pro who has been in the league for seven years, while others like Antonio Brown were taking some time off.
“Because I need to get better. There are things I’ve got to work on”, he said, almost with incredulity. “I’ve got a new coach, there’s new plays being put in, so I’ve got to be back out here. And obviously we didn’t win, so obviously I can improve”.
Brown has a new position coach too in Darryl Drake. He did attend the team’s first two OTAs practices, but he not been back since, for reasons that are unclear, though he has felt the need to vent in recent days.
As for Heyward, he is getting a new position coach for the first time in his professional career with John Mitchell transitioning into a new full-time role as Assistant Head Coach. Replacing him as the defensive line coach is Karl Dunbar, who spent the past two years at the college level and has previously worked under Mike Tomlin.
Heyward recorded his best statistical season in 2018, the leading statistic being his 12 sacks, becoming just the second defensive lineman in team history to record double-digit sacks in a single season. He recorded 45 tackles, three passes defensed, and a career-best two forced fumbles as well. While he was named first-team All-Pro, he had to make it to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
There is a reason that he was the Steelers’ defensive captain last season, and will surely be that again this year. He is, along with Ryan Shazier, the leader of the defense, and he often leads by example. That starts with what he does on the practice field.