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Cam Heyward Breaks Down How He Breaks Down Film

Tuesday, we did a film room highlighting Cam Heyward’s football IQ and his ability to see the play before it’s run. During the most recent episode of his podcast, Not Just Football, host Hayden Walsh asked Heyward about what he saw on that play. While Heyward kept things close to the vest and declined to answer, he did provide a thoughtful answer on how he studies and prepares to become one of the league’s smartest players.

“You look at stances, you look at tendencies with different players in there,” Heyward said. “A lot of things are, if people repeat plays they’ve had success, how quick are you to react to it? If they got a positive play on that, their first time they ran it, if they go back to it and they might show you a different look, how fast can you pick that up?”

To a large degree, that’s what happened in the film we broke down. The Buccaneers ran the same play as they did on the first snap of the game only out of a different personnel grouping. But the alignment of the TE/FB told Heyward the Buccaneers were running a gap scheme with the tight end/guard pulling, and Heyward was able to adjust, beat the block, and make the play.

Here’s a look at the moment again.

Football is a chess game. The way you win isn’t by individual plays but patterns. No teams just go out there and wing it. Offenses – and defenses – are built by circumstance. Down, distance, line of scrimmage, those are the foundations teams gameplan around. From there, studying personnel, formations, alignments, and individual players stances and strengths/weaknesses is how you can anticipate and how to formulate a winning gameplan.

Accomplishing all of that means watching a ton of tape and Heyward offered insight into how much – and more importantly how – he watches.

“Hour, hour-and-a-half a day,” he said of the time spent watching tape excluding team meetings. “Whether it’s watching the run plays throughout the week, watching the third down plays, first and second and long plays. Third and manageable, third and long plays, sack reels.

“Then you start to break it down by different personnel. One running back, one tight end, two tight ends…that way you can play fast on Sunday. If you can understand tendencies, then you can play a lot faster and take some chances.”

Heyward credited having great coaches and mentorship to teach him the game. Few were better to have than John Mitchell, still on the Steelers’ staff as an assistant/liaison, but the team’s d-line coach when Heyward broke into the league. As old-school as they come, Mitchell had a drill sergeant mentality but is one of the game’s best teaches. Current positional coach Karl Dunbar isn’t as rough around the edges but is also a high-quality coach. Heyward also got to learn from veterans like Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith while taking his time stepping into the league, essentially a backup for two years before cracking the starting rotation. Now, Heyward is the leader of the pack teaching youngsters like DeMarvin Leal and Isaiahh Loudermilk.

While it would’ve been nice for Heyward to break down that play, though we’ve basically spilled the secrets, this was a cool moment to get inside Heyward’s mind and work ethic that has given him such a successful career.

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