For the first time in 18 seasons, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not be in uniform leading the Pittsburgh Steelers as we’ve came to know them, onto the field. He was the unquestioned leader of the team, and as owner of virtually every Steelers passing record along with two Super Bowl rings, it was easy to see why. One player who will now come forth and arguably be the vocal leader for not only the defense but the entire team is seven-time team captain and two-time First Team All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward. Frequently viewed as the best defensive tackle in the league aside from the Rams’ Aaron Donald, Heyward has always set the bar high, not only for himself but his teammates, and his 64.5 sacks rank first in franchise history among defensive linemen, an insane stat considering some of the linemen the team has seen don the black and gold.
However, even he realizes that there’s change of the horizon, especially on offense, and whether or not it’ll be free agent pickup Mitch Trubisky or rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett starting at QB for the new-look team.
“First, we gotta figure out who our quarterback’s going to be,” Heyward said on The Playbook Podcast via YouTube. “Whether we’re going with who we have or we’re going to free agency, we gotta figure that out. The pieces we have on offense gotta continue to grow.”
The presumed starter as we sit here today will be Trubisky, but as we all know, the NFL stands for “Not For Long” and that can change in the blink of an eye. Pickett was seen as the future of the position, as he was lauded by analysts all over as the most pro-ready QB in the draft, drawing comparisons to the Bengals’ Joe Burrow.
Another area that Heyward certainly wasn’t shy about is his defense, especially after the team was repeatedly gouged on the ground last season, ultimately ranking dead last in run defense. He cited yje defense needs to continue to grow, just like the offense, and will look to do so after adding several free-agent starters including inside linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Heyward even made a bold statement about himself, and one that should have give opposing linemen nightmares the night before games.
“Personally, I think I can still play better. And I look forward to that challenge. I’ve already challenged myself for next year trying to get a triple crown, a Defensive Player of the Year, a Super Bowl MVP and an MVP. So there we go.”
As far as the DPOY goes, Heyward will face an uphill battle in that department, as his teammate T.J. Watt took home those honors last season and is one of the frontrunners to do the same in the upcoming season. The other two seem a little bit more far-fetched, but one can never say never. A huge figure in the community, Heyward was also awarded for his efforts last year as he was voted the team’s 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year, and was also up for the award against his peers leaguewide, recognizing both work in the community as well as stellar on-field play.
If Heyward’s play takes it up another notch, it’ll elevate the Steelers defense to an elite level and the 6-foot-5, 295-pounder will add another chapter in what’s shaping up to be a Hall Of Fame career when his playing days are over.