‘He Loves To Defy The Odds’: Mike Tomlin Not Taking Cameron Heyward’s Dependability For Granted

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward shouldn’t be playing at this high of a level at 34 years old.

Yet here he is continuing to play at a Pro Bowl and All-Pro level this late into his career at a rather physically demanding position like the defensive line in the NFL.

Last season, Heyward finished with 74 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, four pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, earning his sixth-straight Pro Bowl berth in the process, though his run of All-Pros came to an end at three-straight.

He was a force throughout the season, earning single-game grades of 80.0+ eight times in 2022, including a season-high 92.4 against Buffalo in Week 5, and back-to-back 90.0+ performances against Carolina and Las Vegas in Weeks 15 and 16, two games the Steelers won to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Head coach Mike Tomlin loves seeing Heyward continue to defy the odds, though he knows the end is closer than ever before. That has led to the urgency for Tomlin, Heyward and the rest of the Steelers.

“I often tell Cam he’s seen more good days professionally than he is gonna see. He doesn’t like that reality, but, I just say it two-fold,” Tomlin said Monday from the NFL Owners Meetings in Arizona, according to a tweet from The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. “I just want us to feel the urgency of now. The benefit of having worked with that guy for over a decade, I don’t take for granted, and there needs to be urgency there. But also just to challenge him continually, because we all need it. He needs it. He craves it. He loves to defy the odds and I’m a supporter of that.”

Heyward does love to defy the odds and continues to do that season after season as he puts together a career that will undoubtedly make the case for a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Don’t expect Heyward to slow down anytime soon, either, even if some questions about a future retirement continue to pop up.

“People are already asking for my retirement,” he said during a recent episode of his podcast, “Not Just Football w/ Cam Heyward.” “Me having fun retweeting it and going with it…I’m not retiring as of right now. I’m just in the moment.

“You won’t see me on no damn beach about to do my retirement. I’ll say that. I’m getting ready. I’m working out too damn much to worry about retirement right now. I’m just trying to lay low for a little bit. We had a long season. Super Bowl week really took a lot out of me too…it’s time to be a dad, time to focus on getting better.”

Drafted in the first round in 2011, Heyward has already logged 12 NFL seasons, all in Pittsburgh. He should break James Harrison’s team sack record in 2023, though he will have to get there before T.J. Watt does as they’re neck and neck currently.

Heyward has had one of the more remarkable second-half careers in the Black and Gold. Since 2017, after suffering a torn triceps, he has played at another level, making the Pro Bowl every season. He’s tallied 53.5 sacks with 396 tackles, 73 tackles for loss, 122 quarterback hits, six forced fumbles, two interceptions, and 28 passes defensed in the past six years.

During that same span, Heyward has earned three first-team All-Pro honors and two second-team All-Pro honors.

Heyward remains a force for the Steelers and really isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Assuming the defense can have a bit more luck from a health perspective in 2023, Heyward should continue to see a lot of one-on-ones in the trenches, allowing him to dominate week after week.

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