Pittsburgh Steelers News Bulletin: The Rise of Cameron Heyward
by Neal Coolong on May 17, 2012
7 months ago: PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 9: Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers causes a fumble against Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Tennessee Titans during the game on October 9, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Titans 38-17. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
I'm really interested to see the fruits of DE Cameron Heyward's labor this off-season. Watching him again, there were times he looked like an animal. Granted, more times he looked lost, but when he looked decisive, he really got off the ball and after the ball carrier.
I haven't been shy to express my opinion about DE Ziggy Hood, and I'll be the first to declare the nuances of the defensive lineman in this defense need to be fully understood. But an athlete is an athlete and a baller is a baller. I expect Heyward to push Hood hard for his starting spot, probably lose out, but absolutely gain on his total snaps per game.
One would expect Hood, who's going to want some push before entering into extension talks next year, to ratchet up his game, as well. Hood easily looks the technically superior of the two, but Heyward's get-off and explosion are above Hood's already, even if he doesn't appear to know what he's doing (rookie year).
Getting that extra foot or two of penetration into the backfield from a 3-4 defensive end is critical, and it creates significant problems for the offense, both on the ground and in pass protection. It closes off escape routes for the quarterback, disrupts running back's routes and draws extra attention from the line. Even better, it forces teams to use another tight end to protect the end.
The question floating around the league now is how do you stop the big, receiving tight end. My (glib and ignorant) response is "make him stay in and block."
Can Heyward develop into that kind of a defensive end? Time will tell, but it will be fun to watch.