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Steelers DE Heyward brings intensity to field

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By Scott Brown
Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011
 

His face streaked with sweat, defensive end Cameron Heyward put down the helmet and shoulder pads he has been carrying as part of his rookie indoctrination.

Asked to put a wrap on his first NFL training camp — and one of the stranger ones of the 46 that the Steelers have staged at St. Vincent College — Heyward instead offered a correction.

"It's not over yet," he said late Tuesday afternoon. "We've got one more day."

The Steelers will indeed practice one more time before leaving Latrobe. And while Wednesday's drills are closed, it is pretty safe to say that Heyward will wring everything he can out of them.

His relentlessness is one of the things that stood out during the camp that lasted nearly three weeks. Heyward's all-out playing style landed him in practice scuffles on consecutive days this week. It also led to a sitdown with some of the Steelers' offensive linemen.

They talked to Heyward about stopping when the whistle blows during lineman-on-lineman drills, although starting left tackle Jonathan Scott said it was no big deal.

"It's just the intensity of playing football," Scott said. "He definitely goes hard every play and shows that fire. Cam's a good guy. The scuffles we may have had in practice, I left it there on the practice field."

Heyward scrapped with Scott on Sunday and guard Ramon Foster the next day.

"Sometimes our egos get the best of us, and we're just trying to compete," Heyward said.

If Heyward seemed hesitant to talk about his exchanges with some of the offensive linemen, chatty free safety Ryan Clark didn't hold back.

At one point during practice yesterday, Clark chirped at the linemen about Heyward simply playing hard. Afterwards, Clark said Heyward is "far ahead" of where he expected the former Ohio State star to be after the NFL lockout wiped out all offseason practices.

"The biggest thing is he knows how to work," Clark said, "a first-rounder who comes in here and not resting on his draft pick and says 'I want to be a part of this team and I want to contribute early.' "

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin does not have to cringe about a veteran lavishing praise on a rookie for a simple season: it won't get within six zip codes of Heyward's head.

Consider his assessment of his play in the Steelers' 16-7 loss to the Washington Redskins last Friday.

"I thought the first time out there I did terrible and I've got a lot to prove," Heyward said.

Never mind that the 6-5, 285-pounder made three tackles and looked anything but overwhelmed in his first NFL game.

"He's tough on himself, but any good player is," said starting defensive end Brett Keisel, whom Heyward is backing up. "They're harder on themselves than any coach can be. If he keeps working the way he's been working, he's going to be a great player."

Effort won't be an issue as Heyward tries to reach the lofty expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick.

"He plays hard," Scott said. "It's definitely going to pay off for us."

The question is when.

It generally takes an end three seasons to get a firm grasp of the position in the Steelers' complex defense. That is due, in part, to the different techniques that have to be mastered.

Keisel played in five games as a rookie in 2002 and didn't record a tackle. Aaron Smith, the best 3-4 defensive end in Steelers history, played in six games as a rookie in 1999.

He was credited with one assisted tackle.

A steep learning curve may be why Heyward merely sees himself as a work in progress.

But because it is looking more likely that Heyward will contribute as a rookie, perhaps he should start with himself when it comes to the lighten-up department.

"If you're not hard on yourself, you're not doing anything," Heyward said. "I've got a goal in mind, and I'm going to keep working toward it."

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