Cameron Heyward Should Have an Increased Role in Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

By J.D. Burke
Cameron Heyward
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Heyward is at an interesting point in his career. While he’s yet to live up to his first-round draft status, he hasn’t exactly been a bust either. In limited action, Heyward has shown glimpses of potential as a large run-stopping defensive end, but for the most part he’s been an after-thought in the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

Now, going into his third season with the Steelers, it’s time for Heyward to reward their faith with production. The plan was for Heyward to replace one of either Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel on the defensive line, not to become a relatively effective situational end used sparingly in a deep rotation.

Much of the onus for improved play by Heyward will lie with the coaching staff. It will be hard for Heyward to increase his production if they continue to use him for only somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 percent of the teams defensive snaps. Of course, these snaps are going to have to come at somebody’s expense, but it’s not like Hood has done much to justify his amount of playing time anyway. The argument could even be made that taking snaps away from Keisel would make sense; he’s not getting any younger and his effectiveness could be limited if overused.

Regardless of who loses snaps in order for Heyward to gain them, it has to happen.

There is already evidence from last season that an increased workload can be beneficial to Heyward’s play. In the only two games of the season in which Heyward was on the field for 40-plus snaps (a week 11 contest against the Baltimore Ravens and the season finale against the Cleveland Browns) he accrued a stat line of one QB hurry, one QB hit, a sack and seven tackles. Far from jaw dropping, but a good showing nonetheless.

It’s rare that young players get much in the way of playing time in Dick LeBeau‘s defense, so this could have something to do with Heyward’s far from spectacular level of production. But luckily for Heyward, it’s usually year three when their roles increase. Here’s to hoping he’s no exception.

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