Like it or not, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is viewed as the elder statesman of a young, talented defense in the Steel City.
So much so that Heyward was once asked by a fan this offseason how he was enjoying retirement, and has also had to deal with some age ribbing from teammates and head coach Mike Tomlin.
In Week 1, Heyward certainly had something to say about his age, dominating the Buffalo Bills and left guard Jon Feliciano, registering a sack, 12 pressures, two batted passes and was an absolute wrecking ball throughout the game, showing no signs of slowing down at 32 years of age.
Despite that, Tomlin won’t ease up on the age jokes with Heyward, pushing the right buttons with the veteran Steelers’ captain,
“I’m going to continue to joke about Cam’s age,” Tomlin said to reporters according to Steelers.com. “You know, we’re all motivated in different ways. Cam is one of those guys that’s always looking for reasons to rise up in the face of something. You throw his age in his face, and even though he knows what you’re doing, he has to respond. That’s the competitor that that man is. And so please keep talking about it. We fully expect him to continue to do what it is that he’s doing and has done for us, which is not only make quality plays, but be a quality leader.”
Heyward has certainly be a quality leader for the Steelers and a real sounding board for the mood inside the locker room the last few seasons. He’s a pull-no-punches guy through the media and speaks exactly how he feels, which is rather refreshing. Add in his elite-level play, especially his Week 1 performance, and he can play until he’s close to 40 years old at this rate.
Heyward, a Pro Bowl selection in four of the past five seasons, proved age is just a number in the Steelers’ season-opening win over the Bills on Sunday with 12 total pressures, the most among all defenders, according to Pro Football Focus data, and earned PFF’s highest grade of any one player in Week 1 at 95.3.
Knowing just how great Heyward was in Week 1, Tomlin stated during his 84 Lumber Presents the Mike Tomlin Show Saturday, he’ll continue to chirp Heyward about his age because he knows the impact it has on Heyward.
“I know I challenge him at every opportunity regarding his age and so forth,” Tomlin said on his show Saturday. “And he takes that in a good spirit. I think more than anything, Cam is just such a quality leader for us. He focuses his energy on being what it is that we need him to be, not only from a leader standpoint, but just in terms of the quality of play. I can’t say enough about what he’s willing to do for us.”
Though Heyward said he doesn’t use Tomlin’s chirping about his age as motivation, there has to be something deep down inside Heyward that burns when people bring up his age and assume he’s on the downside of his career. With Stephon Tuitt out another couple of weeks and the defense needing to do a ton of heavy lifting for the Steelers in 2021, hopefully that fire continues to burn hot in Heyward, leading to a handful of performances like the one he put up in Week 1.