Cameron Heyward just recently turned 33 years old, after having arguably his best season yet in 2021. A year before that, he signed a four-year contract extension that carries him through 2024, the year in which he will play at the age of 35.
Just days ago, the All-Pro said that he wanted to play another five years—which would mean taking him to the age of 37, through the 2026 season. The retirement of his dear friend, Stephon Tuitt, hasn’t had any impact on that position, and he is still excited about the group of players that they have in the defensive line room now.
“Nothing’s changed for me. I’m hungry”, he told reporters yesterday after discussing Tuitt’s decision. “We’ve got guys like [Isaiahh] Loudermilk, Tyson [Alualu], we got a great group of guys, and I just want to be a part of the ride. Obviously, it means I’ve got to play at a certain level, and I plan on doing that from here on out”.
Heyward obviously played at that ‘certain level’ a year ago, recording 89 tackles, including 15 for loss, 10 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, an interception, and nine batted passes, named as a member of the first-team All-Pro team for the third time in his career, along with his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl selection.
He knew then that he would have to step up in Tuitt’s absence, and that’s even more concrete now, but the Steelers should be better prepared to weather that storm, especially now with months of advanced knowledge. Much of it comes in the form of in-house improvement, including the continued maturation of Chris Wormley, now in his third season in the system and having grown from extensive playing time a year ago.
In addition to Loudermilk and Alualu, there is Montravius Adams, whom the Steelers picked up off of the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad. He is a sixth-year veteran who still has some raw, untapped potential left for them to mine, with a great get-off that helps give him an edge in the meantime.
Then there is the rookie third-round draft pick, DeMarvin Leal out of Texas A&M. It’s not even clear how much playing time he might receive, since the Steelers typically only dress five defensive linemen for games, and Adams, as the backup nose tackle, would have to be one of them. He could be competing for a helmet on a weekly basis with Loudermilk unless they finagle a way to dress six.
But there are worse problems to have than figuring out how to dress as many defensive linemen as you feel deserve it. Losing a transcendental talent such as Tuitt comes with no simple replacement, but Heyward believes that there is still plenty of firepower sitting in that defensive line room, and he’s ready to do his part to get the most out of his guys.