The Pittsburgh Steelers have done a nice job of assembling some premium talent on the defensive side of the ball over the years—and we see what the unit can look like when they don’t have a couple available to them at the same time.
Being an elite talent, however, also comes with elite expectations—in part because at that point, you get compensated at an elite level. Nobody has better exemplified those qualities over the years than defensive captain Cameron Heyward, who once again made numerous plays for the defense Sunday, including a chasedown tackle to save a touchdown.
“Like I mentioned in some other instances, it is appreciated”, head coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday of such efforts from his big man. “But it’s been so consistent over the decade-plus that he’s been here that it’s also expected. It’s on and off the field. He handed out turkeys already. He’s a multiple-time Walter Payton Man of the Year candidate for us”.
There’s a reason that Heyward is so respected not just in Pittsburgh but really wherever people know his name, which frankly still isn’t as wide a net as it ought to be. He has been a role model not just for young athletes but for people in general, just for how he’s carried himself through life. And that’s appreciated as well, but also expected.
“This guy checks all the boxes”, Tomlin said. “He is a blueprint for young and developing players on the field and off, guys like [rookie defensive lineman Isaiahh] Loudermilk. He’s a walking, talking, breathing example of how to do it, and so we’re appreciative of that”.
I’m not sure you can get a more ringing endorsement than that, and I’m not sure there’s a person more deserving of such an endorsement on the roster. And it’s perhaps especially on days in which the defense looks and feels as though it’s so shorthanded that his significance stands out even more.
But as Tomlin made clear, it goes far beyond the football field. Heyward has been actively involved in community work for many years, and does so with a generosity of spirit, rather than a sense of obligation as a privileged individual.
And part of that is through the pipeline. He was taught about being “a walking, talking, breathing example of how to do it” by the likes of Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Casey Hampton. He’s been passing on his wisdom to those who’ve come after, regardless of their length of stay, from Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave to L.T. Walton and Henry Mondeaux.