Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is the longest-tenured player on the team, so he’s seen a lot of new faces come and go on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the Steelers have more change than usual though, with two new starting inside linebackers, a new starting safety, and potentially two new starting cornerbacks and a new slot corner, as well as a rookie in Keeanu Benton who could start on the defensive line. That’s a lot of roster turnover, and Heyward is aware of that, making it clear after today’s OTA session that good communication is going to be essential for the 2023 Steelers.
“We’re still going to be learning each other all the way throughout training camp,” Heyward said via video posted to Steelers.com. “And then you get to the regular season, you’re still learning guys. But we want to make sure we feel comfortable with each other. I know what I like, they know what they like. Communication is going to be key for us. With so many new guys, guys gotta be able to communicate at a high level, communicate fast, make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
Cole Holcomb has experience wearing the green dot and being the defensive play-caller from his time with the Washington Commanders. That’s likely the role he’ll play with Pittsburgh assuming he’s fully healthy come Week 1. Across the board, there are a lot of new guys who need to get used to new terminology, new play-calling and new teammates who may not play the way they’re used to. That’s why communication is going to be extra important.
Last year, Pittsburgh ran a lot of stunts and slides and was able to force a few false starts with shifts on the defensive line. If everyone’s not on the same page, that stuff won’t work, and the defense is going to suffer from it.
Communication isn’t something that clicks immediately. It takes time to learn and get a feel for everything. While guys should have the playbook and the terminology down pretty quickly, it’ll take longer to get a feel for each other as teammates and what each guy likes to do and how they like to play. What Heyward is saying is going to take until the end of training camp and into the regular season.
The team camaraderie aspect of training camp and the bonding in the dorms at St. Vincent College is going to help guys get to know each other and obviously help with team chemistry. But when it comes to play style, that’s something that can’t really be figured out until guys hit the field together and get a lot of snaps together.
I don’t think the defense is going to have a lot of issues gelling. While Joey Porter Jr. and Benton might start as rookies, so far both seem like guys who have a high football IQ, and everyone else is a veteran who has been around the game long enough to be able to communicate and fit into a team defense. While it might not be instantaneous, I have a feeling that by the time the regular season rolls around, the Steelers defense will be able to click and communicate at a high level and end up just fine.