Seemingly those who complain most about preseason games are the professionals who ‘have to’ cover it, and perhaps some veteran players who believe they are beyond that point. For many teams, several starters rest throughout the process outside of a few drives in the third game. That’s not true for all veterans.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward is heading into his ninth—yes, his ninth—season in 2019. When asked for his take on the preseason for a veteran such as himself, he said, “I need it”, during a locker room interview yesterday captured on the team’s website. “I feel clumsy without it. That’s just me. I’ve got to be out there, I like to get the feel of things because it helps me”.
Heyward (and Stephon Tuitt) did not play in the first preseason game, but both veterans were out there on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Each of them successfully managed to avoid recording any official statistics, but both contributed in ways that don’t show up via traditional metrics. His tackle-end stunt that he ran with Bud Dupree, for example, helped the latter record one of his two sacks.
The 30-year-old defensive lineman has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, recording 20 sacks along the way during that span. He has also had nearly 100 tackles and three forced fumbles with six passes defensed and 40 quarterback hits.
But while he is one of the primary playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, his role also goes above that, because he is the captain of the unit, and is tasked with getting the whole unit on the same page and ready to play, which is another reason the preseason process is important to him.
“You just want to prepare as much as possible. You’re not just setting yourself up, but you’re setting the standard for a lot of younger guys”, he said. “I just want to make sure that they know the tempo and how they do things around here so that they’ll be prepared and be able to go out there on Sunday”.
While the likely group of defensive linemen that will be carried into the 2019 season will feature at least five players heading into no earlier than their fourth season, there is the rookie, sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs, who is still learning the ropes, and it’s always important to have that leader who can show the way by example.
And it doesn’t just go for defensive linemen. It’s Devin Bush and Ulysees Gilbert III, too. It’s Justin Layne and Marcus Allen and Terrell Edmunds and Kameron Kelly and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi. It’s Tuzar Skipper and Casey Sayles and Robert Spillane and P.J. Locke and Henry Mondeaux.
But it’s also for Heyward. As he told reporters, he feels clumsy when the regular season starts if he doesn’t get that work in. He gets his rest days, but it’s important, at least for him, to have those reps under his belt before things get going.