Steelers notebook: Versatile Heyward moves into new role
Cam Heyward doesn't have the beard of Brett Keisel, but the Steelers appear set to turn Heyward into the next Keisel anyway.
Heyward — a former first-round pick who enjoyed a breakout season last year — is taking over the role of Keisel as not only the most experienced player on the defensive line but at his former position as well.
Through the first two weeks of organized team activities, Heyward has flipped from the left defensive end position where he started 13 games last year to the right side to replace Keisel, who remains on the free agent market.
Heyward, who has played left and right in his career, downplayed the move.
“I've done it all my career playing behind (Ziggy Hood) and Keisel, and it makes me better to be able to play both,” Heyward said. “I am comfortable if they want me to (play right defensive end.)”
Heyward is also being incorporated into the role Keisel had in sub packages where he stands up to rush the passer rather than have his hand on the ground. Heyward had five sacks last season making him a viable option in the pass-rushing game.
“I learned from Keisel a little bit,” Heyward said. “We want to play a little bit of a mixer and show different packages of us moving around so the offense can't get a bead on us.”
Big Ben excited
Ben Roethlisberger is the oldest player on offense as he enters his 11th season, and the Steelers' franchise quarterback is approaching OTAs like an undrafted rookie trying to make the team.
“I love being out here, and I love the game,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel younger than ever. I am excited about playing football; I am excited about this team and the direction I think we are headed.”
Roethlisberger has taken part in five of the six offseason practices. The only one he missed was because of a death in the family.
Work in progress
Linebacker Sean Spence successfully has navigated his way back from a gruesome knee injury two years ago that had his future in jeopardy to be able to participate in all six of the OTAs so far.
However, the former third-round pick out of Miami knows there are some major obstacles ahead of him before he can be labeled a success story.
“It is still a process,” Spence said. “This is just step one of coming out and competing and reacting off of other guys instead of cones. When I get to Latrobe, I will be able to test it even more there.”
Wheaton's new mentor
Second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton spent the majority of his rookie year following around veteran Jerricho Cotchery.
With Cotchery gone to Carolina, Wheaton has found another veteran receiver to latch on to: Lance Moore.
“I feel like I am following him now,” Wheaton said. “When I have a question and Ben isn't around, I am going straight to Lance and asking him what he thinks about it. Since I don't have (Jerricho Cotchery) to lean on, I am kind of leaning on him now.”
Wheaton has run almost exclusively with the first-team offense opposite of Antonio Brown.
“It's less watching so I am enjoying it,” Wheaton said.
Odds and ends
The Steelers have four OTAs schedule for next week … Maurkice Pouncey did not participate Thursday. He also skipped a day last week as he recovers from his knee injury … Troy Polamalu has yet to show up for OTAs and isn't expected to be present until mandatory minicamp from June 17-19.
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.
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