While Cameron Heyward has developed into one of the best interior defenders in the game, the trait that has long defined him has been his hustle. The play that best exemplified that last season was his long chasedown tackle of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, which wasn’t the most elegant moment of his career.
“This is my fault. He shouldn’t have gotten out of the pocket in the first place”, he said on NFL Total Access yesterday when he was asked about the play in question. “Justin Herbert’s a heck of a player, but I was just running to the ball. There’s not always gonna be the perfect tackle, the perfect hustle, but I wanted to make sure I was part of the play”.
The play in question occurred with 9:23 to play in the fourth quarter, the Chargers leading 27-20. Los Angeles was facing a 3rd and 5 from the Steelers’ 47-yard line when the defensive front—and Heyward—allowed Herbert to get out of the pocket, rushing for 36 yards before Heyward caught up with him. He drew an unnecessary roughness penalty for his efforts.
“It’s always gonna be ugly sometimes. You have to get used to just turning it on and making sure you help out your teammates”, he said. “I understand I’m not the perfect player, but I’m gonna do my part to make sure I help out my teammates”.
Heyward had a first-team All-Pro season with 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss—even an interception, with nine passes defensed—yet that chasedown tackle is still one that finds its way onto his highlight reel. While it’s an impressive effort play in and of itself, it also embodies the way that he has always played the game.
It’s a matter of respect, not only for the game itself, but as he says, for his teammates, as well. If you’re not doing everything you reasonably can to stop a play, then you’re letting your teammates down and making your failure their failure.
Heyward has not only consistently put in that effort throughout his career, but has motivated others to do the same. He accomplishes that through his example, but that extends to the practice field, and in the classroom, and in simple conversation as well.
Soon to be 33 years old in less than a month, he is still at the top of his game, and is beginning to push the conversation to whether or not he could really establish a Hall of Fame resume by the time he hangs it up. That would certainly be impressive for a player who didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until year seven, but has made every one since.