Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward seemed to find his way into scrums during practice from the word go. As it turns out, that may not have been entirely his own doing. He relayed the story of his ‘welcome to the NFL’ moment on his Not Just Football podcast yesterday, explaining how the offensive line worked to break in the shiny new draft pick.
“The o-line just started to jump me. That was their way of welcoming the young boy to the group”, he said. I came to the sideline and [defensive line coach John Mitchell], ‘You can fight back. You’re not gonna be penalized here’. So I was like, ‘Oh, okay’”.
And then he quickly got into more fights, surprise, surprise. “Coach Mitchell comes up to me, he’s like, Okay, let’s see if you can keep it going’”. And he did. And he continues to do so. And he continues to find himself in the middle of a fracas here and there. But it was the start of a bonding process in that defensive front, as well.
“I feel like I got into fights the whole time, but the funniest part was, Casey Hampton finally was like, ‘Y’all ain’t about to just jump him’”, he recalled. “He came from the sideline and just started fighting everybody, and I knew, I was like, ‘Okay, I got the d-line’s back[ing]. They’re gonna look after me now’”.
Hampton was near the very end of his career at that point; he would play just two more seasons, including Heyward’s rookie season of 2011. It was also the final season for Aaron Smith, though Brett Keisel lasted four years more.
Still, it was important to be accepted into that defensive line fraternity, particularly one so stacked with experienced and accomplished veterans as the Steelers had at the time. Heyward was the new blood, and the team was, frankly, probably hoping even at that point that he would work out better than Ziggy Hood had been.
Little did they know that he would still be kicking, and kicking butt, a dozen years later, continuing to make Pro Bowls and recording sacks at a surprising rate. He is on pace to claim the team’s all-time sack record in 2023, provided that T.J. Watt doesn’t beat him to it first, which is a distinct possibility.
As for who the biggest instigators on that offensive line, Heyward was quick to name Willie Colon as the first out of his mouth, but he added that Maurkice Pouncey “always tried to get a cheap shot”. Chris Kemoeatu was another bruiser in the scrum, but he said that was never Max Starks’ game. Ramon Foster wouldn’t shy away from that play, either.