Steelers' top pick ecstatic about return to Pittsburgh
Addressing their defensive line and not cornerback with their first-round pick Thursday night, the Steelers selected Ohio State's Cameron Heyward with the 31st selection of the 2011 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 294-pound defensive end is the son of the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who starred as a running back at Pitt before playing 11 seasons in the NFL. Like his father, Heyward relishes physical play.
That attribute, along with his relentless style and ability to use his hands and shed blocks, prompted the Steelers to make Heyward the second defensive end they have taken with their first-round pick in the past three years. They selected Ziggy Hood at No. 32 out of Missouri in 2009.
"To be somewhere where you want to be is an unbelievable feeling," said Heyward, a Pittsburgh native who still has family in the area. "I always had a Terrible Towel."
Director of operations Kevin Colbert said Heyward was among 20 players the Steelers designated as having the potential to be special in the NFL. Heyward was the last of a record 12 defensive linemen taken in the first round.
"This is a special moment for this organization," Colbert said. "We got a guy we really wanted and still have all of our other picks."
The Steelers will make two picks tonight — one each in the second and third rounds.
The Steelers have more of an immediate need at cornerback, especially since Ike Taylor is an unrestricted free agent who could hit the open market as soon as next week. Despite that, the Steelers passed on Texas' Aaron Williams to take Heyward and get younger on the defensive line. Starters Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are 35 and 32, and the former has suffered season-ending injuries three of the past four years.
Heyward, who played four seasons at Ohio State, had 94 tackles and 10 sacks in his final two years. He had six tackles and a sack in Ohio State's 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl in January. Heyward excelled despite playing much of the game with a serious arm injury.
"I think he's capable of doing it all," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "This is an impeccable young man."
Heyward tore ligaments in his elbow in the second quarter against the Razorbacks, and he underwent reconstructive surgery Jan. 12. Limited at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Heyward worked out for teams at Ohio State's Pro Day on April 6, and he checked out medically with the Steelers.
"If minicamp started (today), I'd be there," Heyward said.
Heyward lived in Monroeville for a couple of years growing up, and both of his parents went to Pitt. His grandparents live in Highland Park, and he has several aunts and uncles in the area as well.
When asked what kind of player the Steelers are getting, he said, "A team-first kind of player that's very accountable."
At a glance
Position: Defensive end
Height: 6 feet 5
Weight: 294 pounds
College: Ohio State
Notables: Versatile defensive end who can play in a 4-3 or 3-4 ... Similar size to Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith and has same skill set in which he uses his hands well, can control blockers and be effective in a two-gap scheme ... Doesn't necessarily rush the passer well ... Benched 335 pounds and squatted 510 pounds in high school. ... Four-year starter ... Started 45 collegiate games and collected 157 tackles and 14.5 sacks ... Had Tommy John surgery on his elbow Jan. 11 ... Ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash at Ohio State's Pro Day.
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