To say that Cameron Heyward has enjoyed a breakout season this fall would be a bit of an understatement.
After he played sparingly as a reserve (2011-2012: 35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, zero starts) during his first two seasons at the professional level, the Steelers’ 2011 first round pick has been a tremendous asset along Pittsburgh’s defensive line since he took over for Ziggy Hood as the starter at the left defensive end position in early October.
Not only is Heyward tied for the team lead with 23 quarterback pressures, he has racked up career-highs in sacks (3.0), tackles (37), passes defensed (six), and even recovered a fumble during Pittsburgh’s Week 12 triumph over Cleveland. The third-year defensive end’s solid play this fall has not been lost on his coaching staff either.
In an interview yesterday which was published on Steelers.com, LeBeau had some extremely positive things to say about Heyward:
Yeah, I think so [counting on Heyward]. He’s becoming a veteran player and his playing time is starting to reflect that, and his playing level is starting to reflect that. I think the future is definitely up for Cam, I’m glad we’ve got him.
Later in the interview, LeBeau answered the following regarding Heyward’s rapid development this season:
It’s mostly just overall experience. He’s had the size, the strength and the speed, and he’s one of the hardest practice players we have. He just works hard every down and he’s going to continue to get better when you work like that. I think the next couple of years you’re going to see him continue to stay on the rise.
It has been nothing short of awesome to watch Heyward’s rapid improvement this season, and he has developed into the type of ferocious five-technique that we all assumed he would when he was selected with the 31st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Now up to speed and familiar with LeBeau’s complex defensive scheme, Heyward has now been able to put his experience to good use along with his tremendous physical skills. Heyward has all but entrenched himself as the team’s starting left defensive end, and could be the team’s most experienced player on the roster at that position if Hood and Keisel are not re-signed during the spring.
I just hope that Pittsburgh’s coaching staff are able to see him continue to develop as a member of the franchise.
With the future looking bright for the defensive end, it might be in the best interests of the Steelers’ brass to sign him to a contract extension during the upcoming offseason. Since Heyward is only under contract through the 2014 regular season, he could be a hot commodity on the free agent market if he continues to shine and improve.
Future with the team aside, Heyward has established himself as a force at defensive end and definitely deserves the praise he has received from his coaches like LeBeau.
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