No Stephon Tuitt. No Tyson Alualu. That’s not how Cam Heyward envisioned 2021 would go. After a terrific 2020 season from all three men, Heyward is the only one still playing this season. Tuitt’s season has yet to begin, not appearing in a game since last year’s Wild Card loss, while Alualu was lost five quarters into the season with a fractured ankle. It’s caused Heyward to become the old man in a young room. And it’s forcing him to approach his game a little differently.
He spoke with reporters Thursday to talk about adjusting to a new cast of characters.
“I think it’s a good balance of it,” he told reporters in audio provided by the team. “Understanding what I have to do, understanding what the team needs most. Sometimes it’s, I need to apply pressure and I need to attack more. Sometimes it’s cleaning things up for guys. It’s definitely different not having Tuitt and Tyson out there. There was a level of trust but that’s the hand we’re dealt.”
If this was a poker game, Heyward is a pair of aces. And in moments, everything else feels like 7-2 offsuit.
In all fairness, there is talent in this group, the defensive line regarding as one of the team’s deepest positions coming into the year. Chris Wormley has sneakily played well, though he doesn’t bring the high-level plays Tuitt is capable of making. Isaiah Buggs is a talented big man who flashes that talent but is as inconsistent as they come. Rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk has been productive and improving, but is still a rookie whose snap count is limited. Others like Henry Mondeaux and rookie Daniel Archibong, who the team was forced to turn to Sunday night, have really struggled.
Heyward has had to shoulder the load more than ever before. And he’s having arguably the best season of his career, even if his sack numbers won’t be as gaudy as 2017, when he finished with a career-high 12. He’s on pace to finish with 7.5 this season. But no one will be happier to see #91 and #94 back in the lineup either sometime this year – as could be the case with Tuitt – or by 2022 at the latest.