Steelers DE Cam Heyward in midst of breakout season
PITTSBURGH — Cam Heyward is not aware of the history he is chasing. The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end doesn’t particularly care either.
Heyward’s two sacks last week against Tennessee pushed his season total to seven. If he comes up with three more over the next six games for the AFC North leader, he’ll become the first Pittsburgh defensive lineman to reach double-digit sacks since Keith Willis racked up 12 in 1986.
Heyward took several attempts at it when asked if he knew the previous time a member of the Steelers’ defensive front reached 10 sacks. He gave up after a handful of tries.
Hey, being great at trivia is great. It’s just not at the top of his priority list.
It’s still November. Check back with him in January.
Actually, make that February.
“There is still a lot of football to play,” Heyward said. “I do think I’m having a great year, and I just want to keep doing it. The defense allows me to do it, and the guys are counting on me to do it.”
The Steelers (8-2) are second in the NFL with 34 sacks through 10 games thanks in large part to Heyward’s inspired return. He missed the final seven games of the regular season and all three playoff games after tearing a pectoral muscle in a loss to Dallas.
Yet rather than sulk, Heyward simply kept going as if nothing ever happened. The only difference came on Sundays, when he wore sweatpants instead of his familiar No. 97.
“You couldn’t tell he really was hurting because he was always around,” nose tackle Javon Hargrave said. “Really that’s all it is. He didn’t miss a meeting. He was still doing the same routine. I think that’s just how Cam is as a person. He really takes this football thing really serious.”
Blame it on genetics. Heyward’s father Craig (aka “Ironhead”) spent 11 years in the NFL as a bowling ball of a running back who got by as much on determination and toughness as talent.
The lessons of hard work and determination were passed down from father to son. The proof can be found in the film room on Mondays, when Heyward’s teammates marvel at how he easily tosses aside the occasional double team.
“He’s definitely playing at an All-Pro, Pro Bowl-caliber level man,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “He’s been a dominant force for us for a while but everybody’s really just starting to recognize it more now. I feel like he’s starting to get more appreciation for it.”
Heyward is certainly starting to get more attention for it. Though defensive coordinator Keith Butler moves his front three around frequently in search of a favorable matchup, Heyward often finds himself looking at an extra blocker, be it a tight end or running back. It’s hardly mattered.
“He’s just bullying people right now,” outside linebacker Bud Dupree said. “He’s just running them over. He ain’t doing nothing else.”
Being surrounded by young but rapidly maturing legs doesn’t hurt either. In Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers have one of the most athletic front threes in the league.
Throw in Dupree, Shazier, inside linebacker Vince Williams and rookie T.J. Watt and opponents find themselves in trouble if the spend too much time focusing on just one player. Heyward’s productivity is equal parts talent and the knowledge that if he keeps getting two and three bodies thrown his way, that means a teammate is on his way to the quarterback.
“He’s helping everybody as a collective get more opportunities because everybody (else) is winning their one-on-ones,” Hargrave said. “Can’t too many people block him one on one anyway.”
Green Bay (5-5) will get a chance on Sunday when the Packers visit Heinz Field. The Packers have allowed 36 sacks so far, the second-most in the NFL.
Now they have to deal with a front seven that appears to be improving by the week led by the 28-year-old father of two who is the next chain in a lineage that dates from Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith all the way back to Joe Greene.
“He just gives motivation for the other guys when we’re playing and just seeing that he’s out there every day,” Dupree said. “He’s running after the ball every play is contagious and makes other guys want to do the same.”
NOTES: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) and TE Vance McDonald (ankle) did not practice Thursday. … S Mike Mitchell (ankle) was limited. … LB James Harrison (back) was a full participant for the second straight day.