While the Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 2000s were of course recognized for their talent, they were also regarded for the strength of character of their roster. They had a locker room that more or less ran itself, with players policing one another and making sure that they all stayed in line and on track toward a common goal.
It’s fair to say the Steelers of recent years had veered off that path somewhat, but it’s largely believed that the most egregious offenders are no longer on the roster. Nevertheless, it was a major point of focus, particularly in the media, around this time last year and for months during the offseason, questioning the team’s character and leadership.
As a player who considers himself a leader—indeed, he is the team’s defensive captain—defensive lineman Cameron Heyward took those criticisms to heart last year and made strides to improve in that area for his teammates this pats season.
“The previous year everybody talked about how our leadership was lacking. I wanted to improve in that area as well”, he said recently. “Given different obstacles this year I was given the opportunity. I know I am not perfect. I am just trying to get better at each part of my game, whether it’s on the field, off the field, being a better teammate, being more liable. If you don’t focus on every part of your game you are going to take steps back”.
It helps when your leaders can do that with both their voice and their play, and Heyward did both last season, once again earning first-team All-Pro honors. He finished the year with nine sacks and 83 tackles, to go along with a forced fumble and six passes defensed.
He needs no boost to his on-field credibility. He has been a tone-setter for the entire unit for coming on a decade now. I think his voice was heard this year, however, in new ways and by new people, and he was conscious of that fact.
“I tend to be loud and overbearing, but I can’t be like that with everyone. People respond in different ways. I am always going to demand the best, but there are ways to demand the best in different manners”, he said.
“Whether it’s bringing the guy over and speaking one-on-one or sometimes it calls for a little embarrassment”, he added. “Sometimes you need that. But finding the happy balance between the two. Always understanding there is a goal in mind and everything has to be thought out and preplanned before going forward”.