Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward has been a team captain for the past couple of seasons, during which he has seen himself elevate his game on the field to new heights, averaging double-digit sacks over that span and earning the first two Pro Bowl nominations of his career.
Even though the Steelers have also won 22 and a half games over the past two seasons, however, the locker room has been a frequent source of questions, and that is Heyward’s jurisdiction as a leader of the team. While he may always seem to say the right things when he is in front of reporters with a microphone in his face, the bottom line is that his performance as a leader is judges by the actions of those whom he leads.
It is from this perspective that many have commented on articles I’ve written that have framed Heyward as a leader. I even saw comments yesterday to one article lamenting that the team has no leaders. From a certain light, judged by the ‘proof in the pudding’ standards, it’s a fair argument to make.
And one that Heyward seems willing to hold himself to. As he posted to Twitter last night: “leadership questioned”, he wrote. “Challenge accepted and look forward to 2019. Can’t wait to get back to the lab”.
Leadership questioned…. challenge accepted and look forward 2019. Can’t wait to get back to the lab. pic.twitter.com/U5VT6tcpma
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) January 27, 2019
It’s a virtual certainty that Heyward will be voted as a team captain once again. He is the heart and soul of the defense, though T.J. Watt is quickly emerging as his second in command—the Riker to his Picard. But especially from the outside looking in, his function as a leader is going to be very closely monitored, and the only real barometer we will have access to is, frankly, how many off-field distractions there are.
Even for my standards, and I mostly dismiss many of these issues as trivial or unimportant, there is no denying that there has been a ton of off-field drama, certainly far more than necessary and arguably more than should be tolerated. I would have no problem with a buckle-down approach as we head into 2019.
I do think that Heyward is capable of being a part of the solution, but he can’t be the only element. He needs help, not just from Art Rooney II and Mike Tomlin but from other players in that locker room. A strong locker room polices itself. The Steelers of the 2000s did that, though it’s harder to do so now with the proliferation of social media n’at.
We have heard from many anonymous Steelers that they would love to have a quieter season this year. I for one will welcome it and I’m sure the rest of you will as well. Heyward and other leaders, whether formally or informally, will be tasked with keeping the peace—and keeping the drama in-house.