Steelers' Heyward ready to contribute in 2nd season
Cam Heyward has a bad attitude — on the field, anyway.
The Steelers' second-year defensive end couldn't resist leaping into the fray of any dispute during training camp. Instinctively, it seemed, he dumped gasoline instead of water on every fire.
“Cam is always in a fight,” guard Ramon Foster said. “But that's just him. I'm glad to have him on my side because I know he's not going to back down.
“You can't tell him to calm down. I don't want to change that about him.”
Heyward ended up in the middle of most skirmishes at St. Vincent College. It began with guard Willie Colon. It continue with former Ohio State teammate and rookie tackle Mike Adams and then again with rookie guard Kelvin Beachum.
Heyward challenged them all, sometimes without provocation.
It's not about flexing his muscles or proving he's tough enough. It's about intimidation.
“I don't think the fights ever stopped,” Heyward said. “I'm a different person on the field. I leave it on the field because after that I'm done.
“I've always been a guy involved in skirmishes. I guess I've got a temper problem.”
It's just a facade, really, said nose tackle Steve McLendon.
“Cam really doesn't have an attitude problem,” McLendon said. “He just likes to play fast. He gives it everything, and if you don't like it, you better get out of the way.”
Heyward spun his wheels throughout much of his rookie campaign in 2011. He couldn't gain much traction, partly because he struggled to adjust to complex blocking schemes after three years of tormenting Big Ten linemen.
Admittedly, he intimidated no one.
A quicker, stronger Heyward possesses far more confidence as the Steelers prepare for their regular-season opener Sunday against Denver at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“It's been a good start, but there are a number of things I can improve on, including better technique, taking better steps and using my hands more often,” Heyward said. “It's a lot better than last year.”
Heyward, like other young players on last year's roster, was adversely affected by a lockout that erased OTAs and minicamp. He progressed some but not enough to have a significant impact on an aging defensive front that lost nose tackle Casey Hampton and end Brett Keisel in a 29-23 overtime defeat to the Broncos in an AFC wild-card game in January.
Heyward spent part of the offseason workouts catching up. He focused primarily on using good extension while pass rushing and getting comfortable with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's playbook.
“I'm more in-tune and not thinking on the field, and I'm playing faster,” Heyward said. “I'm much more violent with my hands, and I'm staying tight on blocks but staying in my gap.”
Heyward, who missed the preseason opener at Philadelphia with a sore back, didn't do much against Indianapolis or Buffalo. But he was an intimidating presence in the preseason finale against Carolina.
He showed signs of the player coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert envisioned when they made him the team's No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. His stat line against the Panthers was overshadowed by how he collapsed the pocket or neutralized blockers to funnel running backs to linebackers — a prerequisite skill for the Steelers, considering safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu had a combined 190 tackles last season.
“We're taking the challenge to be an impenetrable force up front,” Heyward said. “We don't want to make our DBs our leading tacklers again.”
The Steelers had the top-ranked defense last season despite a rather uninspiring performance by the defensive front. But its weaknesses were exposed by the Broncos, as quarterback Tim Tebow avoided only token pressure to make big plays in the passing game, including an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown pass on the first play of overtime.
The expectations are greater for Heyward this season. Perhaps there's no greater challenge than facing quarterback Peyton Manning in the opener.
“If there's high expectations, so be it,” Heyward said. “I have my own high expectations. I have to live up to those.”
Heyward figures he has a fighting chance of proving he can deliver. No longer is he buoyed by a sterling college reputation. His performance — good, bad or indifferent — is no longer overshadowed by pedigree: his late father and Pitt star Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.
“Cam doesn't talk about what he's going to do; he just does it,” Foster said. “He is definitely getting his own identity as he wants to be perceived. There's always going to be a comparison between him and his dad. He can't get past that, but he's making a name for himself.”
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Wild Wednesday proves Steelers rule
- Steelers submit application to play host to Super Bowl in 2023
- Australians rule punting competition for chance to play for Steelers
- Offseason training helping to accelerate adjustment to NFL life
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin stresses players remain in top physical shape
- Rossi: Moats looks to make a splash with Steelers
- Steelers linebacker Harrison leads by example despite reduced role
- Time running out for Steelers’ third-string quarterback Jones
- QB Roethlisberger embracing teaching role with Steelers’ offense
- Steelers to honor Bettis with ring ceremony in October