Don\’t Bet On Steelers DE Cameron Heyward Opening The Season As A Starter

With Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward now entering his third season in the league, many believe that he will open the 2013 season as a starter, but I wouldn\’t be so quick to bet on that happening.

Even though Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted this week in his online chat that he\’s been told Heyward is already better than starting left defensive end Ziggy Hood, and that he will be given an opportunity to unseat Hood in training camp, the fact remains that Heyward is probably best suited to play on the right side which is currently being manned by veteran Brett Keisel.

Now, there\’s no doubt that Hood has yet to fully live up to his first-round expectations, but with that being said, Heyward still only saw just shy of 270 snaps on defense in 2012, and that number would\’ve likely been about 30 snaps less had Hood not suffered a lower back injury in the Week 11 game last season against the Baltimore Ravens.

Did we see progress from Heyward late in the 2012 season? Yes, we did, but we also saw Hood play better in the last quarter of the season as well. Will Heyward see the field a lot more in 2013? I would think so, as the Steelers will most likely want to save the wear and tear on Keisel, who despite coming off one of his better seasons, will turn 35 in September.

Like Keisel, Hood is entering the final year of his current contract, and while the Steelers did address the defensive end position in the seventh-round of the 2013 NFL draft with selection of Samford defensive tackle Nick Williams, he is more than likely a good season and a half away from being ready to contribute regularly, let alone start.

The Steelers organization, in my opinion, hasn\’t completely given up yet on Hood and linebackers coach Keith Butler talked a little about him, as well as Heyward, during his talk with the media on the third day of the draft when asked if he is worried about the run defense this coming season due to the loss of veterans over the years.

“Now Aaron Smith was a big loss in my opinion. We have to be able to fill that void and I think we will because there’s couple of young guys that are coming along,” started Butler. “Cam[ron] Heyward is coming along pretty good. Ziggy Hood has some technical stuff that John [Mitchell] has to work with him on. And John knows about that so we’re going to try to get those things clarified and work that out and hopefully we’ll be good against the run.”

Keep in mind now that the Steelers defense ranked fourth in the league last year in rushing yards allowed per play with a 3.71 average. In 2011, they ranked 9th overall in that category as they allowed 4.00 yards per rush.

As far as the Steelers pass rush went the last two seasons, that was where the main problems on defense were and the play of outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley can be easily pointed to as the leading cause of that. Will it improve in 2013? It better, and it will be up to Woodley, Jason Worilds and quite possibly even Jarvis Jones to make sure that happens. Will the Steelers defensive line need to be better at pushing the pocket in 2013, in addition to the team getting more consistent pressure from their outside linebackers? Absolutely.

So if Heyward winds up not being the starter in Week 1 of the 2013 season, how much playing time should we expect from him? I don\’t think that 600 snaps is out of the question for him at all, but I truly believe that most of those snaps will come at the expense of Keisel, not Hood. Should things go like I expect that they will, Heyward will be starting on the right side by the middle of the season.

Should, however, Heyward wind up overtaking Hood as the starter on the left side during training camp, like Bouchette suggested could happen in his chat, it will signal that Hood is a colossal bust in the eyes of the organization, and it won\’t bode well for the immediate future of the Steelers defensive end positions moving forward into 2014.

So what about Hood, who as I mentioned above is entering the final year of rookie contract in 2013? If you truly think about it, unless the Steelers seriously think that he has no future with the team past this upcoming season, they almost have to try to work out a modest short-term extension with him between now and the start of the season. Right?

Should Heyward wind up bursting onto the scene in 2013, who will play on the other side of him in 2014? Keisel for one more year at 36? Williams, who Mitchell went out of his way to make it clear is a project after he was drafted? Al Woods, who by the way is also heading into his final year under contract? Brian Arnfelt or Cordian Hagans, both of whom were added as undrafted free agents?

Let me close by saying this, if Heyward winds up being a starter in Week 1, we all better hope that it is in place of Keisel and not Hood. If it winds up being the other way around, we all better hope that Williams is more than just a project.

  • steeltown

    I think Hood will be the starter.. he has steadily improved every season the last few yrs, not to mention its a contract year, so BOTH sides will be pushing for vast improvement this season.. and if not, he’s gone next season or at the very least would be retained for a modest amount. Keisel will most likely start on the other side, but I fully expect Heyward to get some time there.

    Remember we’re only one injury away from Heyward starting full time anyway

  • steeltown

    ..and I’m sure they’ll be scouting some DL college prospects this year, with Keisel aging and Hood & Woods both UFA’s, even if Ziggy has a breakout year we’ll still need more depth

  • steeledge

    We really need to get Hood taken care of, regardless of some learning curves, he could man the left end spot… He is still young enough, and doesn’t have much injury history. It would be nice to keep a core of Hood, McLeandon, Heyward together for many years to come.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I am always amazed at the grief Hood gets. Yes, he has room for improvement, I think we ALL know that. That is not to say that stats tell us everything, but let’s look more closely here. It is commonly agreed that Keisel had one of his better years.

    Keisel played 16 games, so did Hood.
    Keisel had 46 total tackles, Hood had 42.
    Keisel had 26 Solo tackles, Hood had 25.
    Keisel had 4.5 sacks, Hood had 3.
    Keisel sacks were against KC, Cleveland, and Cinn.
    Hood’s came against Philly, Balt. and San Diego.

    Hood has need for improvement, but if Mitchell can fix his issues he still has MANY years to give us good service. Let’s not forget that at Hood’s age this past season Keisel had exactly ZERO stats for that season. ZERO. Keisel had played 5 games total in his career and had recorded 4 combined tackles. He did not play all 16 games in a year until he was 27.

  • mokhkw

    Keisel without Harrison next to him at ROLB is a completely different player imo. Watch the early games last season before Harrison came back – as Harrison got healthy, Keisel became more effective.

    Ziggy’s lack of instincts might make him more suitable to RE while Heyward, with his better instincts & functional football strength might be better fitted to LE.

  • Nice work Kenneth. And while Hood is no A. Smith, he is certainly no slouch either.

  • dgh57

    I gotta agree with Keith Butler that the loss of Aaron Smith was BIG maybe a even humongous! What I wouldn’t give to have both Smith & Hampton back in their primes to go along with this #1 rated passing defense we have now!! This defense would then truly be called “The Steel Curtain”!!! (Okay, I’m awake now and out of dreamland!!)

    Most of this will be sorted out in training camp. Hood will have to show improvement if he wants to see his next contract. He has shown modest improvement each year and he will need to do better than that to be around next year! I think he can & will improve.

    I think Keisel will start the year as the starter but towards the end of the season Heyward may be the starter as age catches up with Keisel. (Darn it, I would like to at least get one more year out of “The Beard” before he hangs it up!!!!)

  • SteelersDepot

    lack of instincts? This has to be the craziest thing I have read today and totally unfounded. congrats.

  • Pete

    I think the bigger issue which Butler alluded to was the play of Aaron Smith against the run and the expectation that Hood would be further along than he is. That play isn’t necessarily captured with the usual stats. I hope Hood and Heyward continue to progress because I haven’t seen anything even close to Smith coming out of both of them.

  • Mike Sweeney

    Keisel, in my opinion, will and still is effective at his age. When you take care of your body and do the little things to keep in shape, you remain effective for a long time. Maybe a late bloomer as a starter, but that’s why he is the rock on the end. Having Aaron as his tutor was awesome and he did contribute on special teams in his early goings and quite effective. Ziggy, to me is a good run defender. I would he hope that he improves each year, like every player should but I don’t think he’s a solid player, mediocre at best and entering year 5 I hope I see ferocity, intelligence and promise. Most of the sacks last year, were coverage sacks, anyways. No heat and pressure on qbs ever, was deplorable. The Cam man, has a great opportunity to show and prove why, he was the 1st round pick and could be filling some big shoes on the RE or some dancing shoes on LE, so hopefully he’s vastly improving to be ready to go.

  • David Edward

    For supposedly being the strongest player on the team Ziggy doesn’t play like it. I think the “technical” things Butler is talking about is that Ziggy too often tries to use his upper body when holding the point of attack rather than set a good base first. As a 34DE his first job is to occupy blockers and hold the point. Smith was a master at holding point as was Hampton which really freed up things for the LBs. It’s a bit disappointing that after 4 years Ziggy still struggles with this, but if they can get it corrected he can be a serviceable DE. Cam has more of the Keisel and Smith body type…tall (6’5″) but not heavy (all are under 300). He also has to learn to set a good base too. One way or another, he’s probably going to have to be a starter in ’14. I agree that he will probably be Keisel’s successor not Hood’s. Neither Ziggy or Cam were really first round caliber DE, but 09 and 11 were weak classes for DL.

  • steeltown

    very dependable player

  • SteelersDepot

    To John A Stewart above. You mean those 5 snaps Heyward played in that game with 4 coming at the right side and 1 coming on the left side?

  • steeltown

    Very true… people need to realize that we will never fully replace A.Smith and they also need to realize that the DE’s in a 3-4 are not flashy, as long as they control the edge in the run game and get some pressure on the QB its a good day. Also, Hood has been very dependable from a health standpoint.
    That said, there is room for improvement, lets see if he’s up to the task this season

  • tequila0341

    Remember that in 2010, the Steelers had one of the best run defenses in the history of the NFL with Hood as the main starter after Smith got hurt in game 6.
    The Steelers finished 3rd best in the NFL in YPC this year, and 2nd in rush yards allowed. Last year they were 9th in YPC and 8th in yards allowed.
    So how bad is our run defense? It’s actually pretty damn good.

  • zyzak

    Dave I hope you are right, they need all 3 ends to play consistently well

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Lol I’m with you. I mean instincts were NEVER the issue in first place. Its the skillset placements, schematically. Keisel became much more effective when they allow him to pass-rush more and be somewhat one-gap DE and don’t get me wrong, Keisel is good but we CAN and do better. I say sign Ziggy Hood to 4-5 years. Lock him down.

  • steeltown

    Well done

  • dgh57

    Yes, I have no complaints about our run defense. I just would like to have the 2008* run defense to go with our pass defense we have now! (*Can’t remember if it was 2008 for sure.)

  • steeltown

    Yea.. we’re pretty damn spoiled

    In the end an improved pass rush will cure all ailments

  • Bradys_Dad

    There’s been talk about taking a look at Hood at nose. I wonder if the competition for that spot might make more sense? I also wonder how the sub-par play from Woodley affected Hood’s play. If you know that Lamarr isn’t a factor do you scheme against that corner making life more difficult for Ziggy? I kinda see this as a make or break year for Ziggy and Cameron.

  • steeltown

    I don’t see Hood at NT.. he isn’t really a space eater like Ta’amu could be or McLendon now that he’s put on some weight. But, yes I think the subpar play of all the OLB’s in general has affected the entire Defense
    Make or break year for Ziggy yes, but not for Cameron in my opinion, he hasn’t even been given the reins yet

  • SteelersDepot

    not happening unless emergency as Hood is not a two gap player. Chris Hoke also told me doubts that will ever happen as well.

  • SteelSpine

    I cant foresee Steelers competing Heyward against Ziggy for one same position:
    – two 1st-round picks competing for 1 same spot doesn’t make alotta sense to me.
    – nor does demoting any 1st-round pick, even if the demoted 1st rd pick is Ziggy.

    But I believe someone said that to Bouchette or to anyone, & I wouldn’t even be surprised if even a coach said to Heyward “you’ll have a chance to unseat Ziggy in camp”. But that’s to motivate Heywood, to light a fire under him. Because anytime you have a 1st rd pick (Heyward in this case) as still a backup, sure before camp you wanna tell him he’ll have a chance to compete to start.

    They’ll probly even give Heyward some snaps at Zig’s spot, when Zig needs rests in preseason games & Heywood was on the bench. Heyward’s performance at Zig’s spot in preseason games this year would have to be greatly better than Zig to overtake Zig on depth chart. That amount of difference is possible but unlikely.

  • SteelSpine

    Good points. I’ll add a related point: bodybuilder strength vs functional strength in football. Bodybuilding photos/articles on here were about Ziggy, but I doubt Aaron Smith looked like any body builder (if Aaron had his shirt off). Many dominating defensive linemen have been built ugly, sloppy, not sculpted bodybuilders. One of many was Tony Siragusa (tho he was a DT then a NT) looked like a disaster but always gave our interior offensive line fits (& that included our great Dermotti).

  • SteelSpine


  • HarryBackside

    Even if Heyward beats out Hood in camp, I don’t think you can make the claim that Hood was a colossal bust.A bust doesn’t start as many games as Hood has. Swede was a colossal bust. Hood just didn’t develop into the quality player that was expected based on his draft status.

  • mokhkw

    I think you’ll find some Scouts share the same opinion. It was a knock on him coming out of Missouri & not unfounded at all.

  • SteelersDepot

    actually scouts said he had great instincts coming out as I talked to the Dave-Te who writes the reports for one scouting service years ago about him.
    Don’t take this wrong, but you are totally talking out of your ass.

  • sgtrobo

    perhaps “ball awareness” is a better term. Don’t want to speak for mokhkw though, so I could be completely wrong. Watching the All-22, it became apparent that a lot of the time, Ziggy simply didn’t know where the ball carrier was. This seemed more a problem in the running game than the passing game though as he seems to be pretty aggressive about getting his hands up in the passing lanes when possible

  • charles

    Taamu is a complete waste of roster space, and not because of his legal issues. He is not a very good football player.

  • charles

    I agree, if the 3-4 then those three are who we have to live with. There is large upscale potential with them, and if the Oline comes together and these three can hold or dominate the line of scrimmage, the steelers will be young money across the board…

  • charles

    James Harrison gave the best example of instincts when he anticipated Kurt Warner on the goal line in the first half of that Super Bowl.
    This is the largest complaint of an otherwise stalwart DC, his defenses are so complex that they remove instinct from the young players.
    I agree completely with mkhlkw above, Hood is a billion times better athlete than Kiesel. However Kiesel showed great instincts when he batted balls down. You see Harrison made Woodley better because James commanded doubles way before Woodley, Kiesel also benefitted greatly from playing next to Mr. Harrison. The OLBs seem to be the greatest question this year, if they can create chaos then Hood, Heyward, and Kiesel will be better. I really have lost faith in Lamar, but heres hoping he proves me very wrong this coming season.

  • charles

    Thank you

  • charles

    In LeBeaus defensive schemes what Hood needs is an OLB that can contribute.

  • alex

    the steelers DL, can you say WEAKNESS…

  • Ahmad

    I think with better NT play, the DL as a whole will be better. Back in 2010 when Hampton was on top of his game, the Steelers set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed and that was with Hood starting in place of an injured Smith.

  • JC

    In my opinion, the criticism of Hood is way overstated. He’s not an all-pro, but the guy is a capable starter who helps anchor the front line of a top 5 defense. Also, I truly believe that Heyward is going to turn into a solid DE when he gets an opportunity. The team may look towards the draft next year to potentially upgrade that position, but Hood is serviceable for the time being.


    I agree. Not every player is going to be all-pro. hood is serviceable, and I think Cam will be better. Now it will be interesting to see how McClendon does at NT. In today’s passing league, I would hope the Steelers refrain from taking DE that high in the draft. Draft projects, and let them develop, like Keisel, Smith, McClendon, etc.

  • steeltown

    Based on what…

    What very little (preseason) tape on him shows he needs some work on his technique and holding his gap, but the kid is physically gifted and has the brute strength for the position

    It’s a little to early to give any sort of solid assessment

  • On a side note, I’m convinced Hood made those anonymous comments about Woodley earlier this off season. He would have looked a lot better with Woodley playing at a high level. And as the offseason pictures showed Hood put a ton of effort into being in shape.

  • TheBlitz

    I expect the Steelers to sign Hood beyond 2013. He is not a pro-bowler, but he’s certainly a serviceable starter playing in very complex system.

    It will be foolish not to retain him beyond 2013. Keisel will be gone in 2014, and none of the rookies drafted this year will be ready to play the position. Cam Heyward will be the only “experienced” DE on the team.

  • walter mason

    42 comments in reply to the enigma called Hood. Yes he is good. Yes he is dependable. So is Foster but we try to replace him every year. Steelers wont go to the Super Bowl fielding a team of average players.

    Hood will play because we have nobody else. I believe Heyward is better maybe because I dont want to think we wasted 2- first round pics on average guys. Drafting average is not the Steeler way to success..

    I would like to see someone step forward at nose tackle so we can see Mclendon slide over to DE. Hood should be retained only if the price is right.,.

  • not to be rude but the only talk of that is from fans that don’t understand the style of defense played. NT and DE are VERY different positions. You can not simple have Hood play NT. He would have to gain massive weight, learn a position he never plays, and you would give up on him as a 34 DE to play NT… I just don’t get that POV

  • disqus_fl8OJpXznD

    I agree, Hood is clearly serviceable, just not the All-pro many had hoped from a #1 pick.

    More importantly, he’s consistent, durable and reliable. Another season like that and we get a solid DE for $4M-$5M per, maybe one who gets better as he gets wiser.

  • disqus_fl8OJpXznD

    Hood is good and dependable and not easily replaceable, Foster is just dependable and very easily replaceable.

  • walter mason

    Ha! Who are you Hoods agent? Hood is certainly replacable. We just dont have anybody at this time! (besides Heyward). And who do you have in mind to easily replace Foster?

  • sgtrobo

    agreed thoroughly there Mod, which is why I cannot figure out why we drafted Ziggy. Not a good fit at all for what we normally do in our defense with our DEs. A shorter, squattier penetrating DT doesn’t make sense as a LDE in our system.
    Only way Ziggy could play NT would be in a Jay Ratliff type penetrating 1-tech role, certainly not as a 2-gap guy.
    I root for Ziggy. He is a super hard worker, a really good guy, seems like a great teammate and locker room guy, but he is such a poor fit and it really seems like he’d be pretty solid as a 1-gap/3-technique kinda guy, as he was in college

  • sgtrobo

    1-gap NT, basically a 1-technique, rather than a 2-gap 0-technique like Casey. Not sure if Ziggy could do the Jay Ratliff role or not

  • right but that is not the LeBeau defense so that kind of talk is from fans ONLY. again, not being rude but fans are so clueless sometimes when talking about the defensive scheme. Such as moving Hood to play NT. Silly.

  • sgtrobo

    do you think Hoke played the identical role that Snack played in 2004 when Snack missed most of the season?

  • they are both NT’s. how does that relate to moving a DE to NT… Now you wanna say Hood can be like Hoke? based on what…

  • sgtrobo

    similar body types and sizes and expected roles. Not all NT’s are big 2-gap space eaters. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it might be an improvement over what he has done at LDE and it may allow us to keep all 3 of our young DL (McLendon, Hood and Heyward). McLendon seems better at DE than Hood, but maybe this year Hood’s ability finally catches up with his effort and work ethic