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“He’s A Unicorn:” Teryl Austin On Cam Heyward’s Longevity

Cameron Heyward is 33 years old and still a dominant force in the NFL. Just this past week, Heyward put in absolute stellar performance against the Las Vegas Raiders that resulted seven tackles, two sacks, and a pass deflection which game him his third Defensive Player of the Week award in his career, and his first since 2017.

Today, in his weekly press conference transcribed by the Steelers, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was asked about what Heyward does to play at this level at the NFL old age of 33.

He’s a unicorn,” said Austin. “I say that all the time. But I think what allows him to do it is he keeps himself in great shape. The wear and tear, it’s hard to explain. It really is. Because the guy just seems to play at a high level all the time. But I think a lot of it is conditioning, I think a lot of it is obviously he has a great willpower, a great desire to be a great player. So, I think you factor all that stuff in and the fact that he’s really durable. I mean, it’s amazing, the amount of plays he plays, all the things that you said. You don’t see that very often. But I just have to put that to him and his mental makeup, his physical, how he keeps himself in great shape is why he’s able to do what he does.”

It obviously takes a lot of training and caretaking of the body to age the way Heyward has, especially at the position he plays. Heyward doesn’t have the luxury of a quarterback, wide receiver, or defensive back where they don’t have to face contact every single play. Heyward does as he rams into offensive lineman on every single snap.

Heyward keeps his training relatively private though, unlike many NFL players. For example, Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson will often post pictures or videos of himself training in the offseason. Heyward rarely does that. There is not right or wrong way to train or to post, it is more just that because Heyward does not often post himself training in the offseason that it is not talked about much. However, now Austin shined a light that Heyward is one of the hardest workers and trainers on the team, and that makes sense given his production. Even at 33 he has already registered 8.5 sacks, 18 QB hits, 62 tackles, three passes defended against, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Incredible stuff for the Steelers’ defensive captain.

Another reason why Heyward is playing so well, so late into his career, may be because he was not thrusted into the starting line up quickly. Playing behind guys like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, Heyward didn’t start a game in his first two seasons in the NFL. And in 2012, the first year Pro Football Reference has for snap counts, Heyward only amassed 27% of the defensive snaps per game.

If you combine his limited game action which helped limit early wear and tear on his body in his first two seasons, plus his incredible work ethic and conditioning that Austin mentioned today, it makes sense why Heyward has been able to play so well so late into his career. Hopefully the future Steelers Hall of Honor member will have a few more elite seasons and win a much deserved Super Bowl ring in the Steel City.

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