Steelers' Cam Heyward makes positive impact on defensive line
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 7:21 p.m.
It might not reflect on the stat sheet, but defensive end Cam Heyward has become an integral part of the Steelers' defense.
The former first-round draft pick got off to a slow start during his first two seasons as he tried to settle into a role that often changed. He has become more effective now that his job is clearly defined.
Dick LeBeau, the Steelers' defensive coordinator, has asked — and sometimes demanded —that Heyward capitalize on his strength and quickness to flush quarterbacks out of the pocket.
More important, Heyward has gained the confidence of the coaching staff. He's been tossed into the fray to spell starters Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel, who are part of a rotation designed to save their legs during the second half of physically demanding games.
“With Cam coming in, it takes a lot of pressure off us knowing that we don't have to play 50 or possibly 70 snaps a game,” Hood said. “We have guys who can keep us fresh, and there won't be a drop off.”
Heyward, who has been on the field nearly half of the Steelers' 132 defensive snaps, has a stiff challenge awaiting him Sunday night at Heinz Field when the Steelers (0-2) face the Chicago Bears (2-0).
The Bears' offensive line, which includes rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, has allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to be sacked just once. As a result, Cutler has had plenty of time to spot receiver Brandon Marshall downfield.
The residual effect of Cutler's consistency and near-flawless play is that defenses are hesitant to crowd the line scrimmage to stop running back Matt Forte.
The Steelers are counting on Heyward to defend the run and pressure Cutler. There were signs of growth during Monday's 20-10 loss to Cincinnati, as he applied constant pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton.
“It's helped that guys like Ziggy and (linebacker) Lawrence (Timmons) have shown me how to play in this defense,” Heyward said. “I've benefited from their input, so now I feel like I can contribute.
“I'm not just trying to take up space on the field. I don't want to be a letdown when I get in there. I do feel more confident this year, and I'm in lot better shape than I've been in the past.”
Heyward has been an asset the first two games, considering the defense has spent plenty of time on the field, especially in the grueling fourth quarter when mental and physical fatigue sometimes sets in.
“Coach (LeBeau) talked to us about that because he wants us to be fresh going into fourth quarter, as well as the back part of our schedule,” said Heyward, who is tied with cornerback William Gay with a team-high two passes defended. “None of our guys need to be playing that many snaps. If we can get off the field it's going to help.
“But we need to force teams into tougher third downs and stop the run. I think the rotation we have with guys like Steve (McLendon) and Al (Woods), it's going to make us better because we'll be injury free.”
For now, the Ohio State product is a dependable backup. However, he was in on more than half the defensive snaps against the Bengals.
“It feels better than standing on the sidelines,” said Heyward, whose four quarterback pressures are second to Keisel's five.
Timmons said few have out-worked Heyward this season.
“He has all the intangibles to be a great player and it always showed in practices,” Timmons said. “But now it's showing up in games.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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.
- Steelers safety Polamalu finds himself in tough position
- LeBeau wants to come back as Steelers defensive coordinator
- Steelers notebook: Cutting down turnovers, sacks hasn’t led to victories
- Bengals’ balanced offense poses threat to Steelers
- Motivated quarterback Roethlisberger fights to prop up Steelers
- Steelers notebook: Worilds loses sack; Big Ben gets 1st career catch
- Steelers defense’s rapid decline looks similar to that of Steel Curtain’s
- Expert: KO doesn’t mean ‘worst’ concussion for Pens’ Orpik
- Steelers notebook: Woodley expects to start Sunday vs. Dolphins
- Steelers film session: Polamalu not at fault on long run
- Steelers’ NFL playoff hopes are all but gone in loss to Dolphins