The Steelers selected defensive end Cam Heyward in the first round of the 2011 draft with the hope that he’d help form the core of the defensive line as veterans like Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel shuffled off the scene.
Two of those guys have moved on, but Heyward hasn’t filled the void to the extent the team had in mind. Heyward hasn’t made too much of an impact in his first two seasons, 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 32 games, and has heard from defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and others that he needs to take advantage of the opportunities that passed him by in 2011 and 2012.
“It was almost a loss because I didn’t meet all the goals I wanted. I need to have a productive training camp, so we can get this thing running,” Heyward said, via Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I have the athletic ability, so it’s a matter of putting technique and ability together. Then, I have to transfer that onto the field. I have to come to work every day and leave no questions about my effort. When my number gets called this season, I have to be ready. I want to be consistent. I want to have one great play followed by another great play. I can’t have too many bad plays, not if I want to gain the confidence of the coaches.”
Keisel and Ziggy Hood will start at defensive end for the Steelers this season, but Keisel’s nearing the end of the line and Heyward could grab a fair amount of playing time if he’s able to gain that confidence. That development would be a good step for a Steelers defense that’s remaking itself in the absence of the aforementioned veterans and a crucial one for a player who has yet to really show why he went so early in the draft.