While T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitpatrick, Devin Bush, and even others such as Bud Dupree have at times dominated the attention and the headlines for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense this season, the nucleus of that unit remains their longest-tenured member, and their captain, nine-year veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
Heyward is putting together yet another strong, potentially Pro Bowl-earning season, up to 43 tackles on the season already (his career-high is 59), including six tackles for loss. He has five and a half sacks, keeping him in the ballpark for that 8-10-sack range that he has been able to hit or surpass in the past two seasons.
His role has only been magnified over the course of the past three games since the season-ending injury suffered by Stephon Tuitt, who looked to be on-pace to have a career year. Heyward has had to take on a larger percentage of the snaps with fewer rests, but he hasn’t been wearing down, and has continued to produce.
And he wants the responsibility, not that he hasn’t has that responsibility for several years now, since at least the 2014 season, his first as a full-time starter from the beginning of the year to the end. He welcomes the challenge of being the focal point of the unit.
“The way I look at it, it’s always on me”, he told reporters in the locker room yesterday, via The Fan. “It’s not a selfish thing. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I wear that C on my chest for a reason and I want to be responsible for getting these Ws”.
Heyward has been the captain for years now, and during much of that time, he has seemed to be largely on his own in the leadership capacity, but there is a growing nucleus of young players that in upcoming years, and even now, are stepping up to supplement that leadership role.
It starts with T.J. Watt, who in his third season is becoming a force and is slowing taking on more responsibilities within the leadership structure of the team. Devin Bush is being groomed for that role, both by the nature of his position and his personality. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a football lifer who is leading by example right now.
Yet when push comes to shove, they all understand that they ultimately defer to Heyward, who has been leading by example and by word for some time. He consistently sets the tone for hustle on the field that all must follow in his wake, and we’ve seen that get passed on as new players are worked into the fold.
“It’s fun that it’s all on us”, he said of the role that has been thrust upon his unit this season due to the injury circumstances dealt to them. “I think we enjoy being the catalyst. These games aren’t written out, but for us to discover. We’re just enjoying being the reason why”.