Cameron Heyward Closes Out Breakout Season With Representative Display

By Matthew Marczi

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward emerged not merely in the starting lineup in his third season, he emerged as a dynamic player for the defense at a time, and a position, that the team desperately needed such a player.

While not every game was an All-Pro-worthy performance for the young defensive lineman, Heyward put together several impressive performances this season that even Pro Football Focus took notice of, as he finished with an 11.3 overall grade from the advanced statistics site, with a positive grade in every category.

Heyward’s season finale against the Cleveland Browns did not represent his peak, nor did it represent a low; if anything, it was a sort of Goldilocks performance as a farewell to the 2013 season.

Midway through the first quarter, Heyward took advantage of the opportunity of going up against reserve guard Garrett Gilkey. As the guard swam to his left, Heyward cut to his inside shoulder and found himself in the backfield, in position to bring Edwin Baker down for a two-yard loss.

Toward the end of the game, Oneil Cousins replaced John Greco for the Browns at right guard. Heyward was a fan of the change (as he played left end when Brett Keisel is in the game). Though Jason Campbell was successful in getting his pass off, Heyward showed a strong bull rush and then ripped past the right guard to get to the quarterback.

A few plays later, Heyward got the better of Cousins again, though center Alex Mack picked him up. Still, when Campbell stepped up in the pocket on fourth down, Heyward was able to escape from Mack and get a hit on the quarterback to help force an incompletion and a turnover on downs.

Back at right end, Heyward and Jarvis Jones ran a cross stunt, and Heyward bull rushed Joe Thomas into the backfield, reaching out to his left to drag down Campbell for the sack—his fifth of the season.

Even more impressive is that Thomas was holding Heyward on the play, for which he was flagged, and still managed to get the sack. Thomas is a premiere pass protecting left tackle, so it was a nice exclamation point on what proved to be a breakout season for one of the defense’s most important young pieces.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    The Man cant be stopped!

  • SteelerFanInMD

    Why did it take so long to put him in the starting lineup? He has 1 year left on his contract now.

  • steeltown

    Keisel has been playing at a high level these last few yrs.. on the other side I think they were a little slow or reluctant to admit that Cam should be starting over Hood

  • Callentown

    Man, I am SO GLAD this guy worked out. It was looking like we whiffed on four big picks (Hood, Adams, Gilbert and Cam). What I mean, btw, is that these are 1st/2nd rd picks. They ‘should’ be starting and playing well.

    He seriously looks the most like Aaron Smith I’ve seen for us.

  • Jollyrob68

    Because The Older Steeler Coaches only trust their older players. It’s one of the reasons I really want a New DC who will use the talent they draft.
    What’s the point of drafting an Awesome player in rd 1 & 2 if your not going to play them. That really pisses me off.
    2014 Draft has a few first rd starting CB but will the Steelers draft one and play them asap?

  • srdan

    No doubt about it. He looks good, and I see how people make the Aaron Smith comparison. But now he has to do it for 10 years at a high level if he really wants to earn that comparison.

  • Jollyrob68

    Hood isn’t a whiff, they changed the way that he plays. He was more Of an attacking DT. like Gino Atkins but they don’t use him that way. They don’t play the 34 like the 49ers do. It’s Butler’s time to lead this Defense.

  • WilliamSekinger

    I hope they extend him this offseason, instead of waiting until he gets too expensive. He has shown enough to deserve that extension a year early IMO

  • Chad H

    Your right we don’t play like the 9ers. Hood a good player, but not a 3-4 DE. We missed on this pick. He is a 4-3 DT. He will be gone and land on 4-3 team and probably become a pro bowler.

  • J. Hernandez

    I always was high on him, even when others were down and calling him a bust. Good for him. Now let’s hope Arnfelt and Williams develop.

  • Callentown

    Agree with all of this except the Pro Bowl part. We really have not seen Hood make the kind of plays to think this is the case. Even in a somewhat different position, he should still be able to make some plays and show us something more than he has to this point.

  • Callentown

    Feels like the only position on this defense that a rookie could come in and start year one and make a positive impact, would be NT.

    Watch for Nix..

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    The Steelers must get his extension done this offseason.

  • David Edward

    Cam really came into his own this year and played the way you would want a first round DE to play. He was disruptive, made plays, batted down passes, and often attracted double teams (and fought through them). I see Cam becoming a leader on D, essentially taking over that role from Keisel. Steelers would be smart to lock him up to a long term deal in June after the cap space from the Woodley release opens up.

  • srdan

    And he is nasty. If he becomes the leader on defense we should take that persona on. I would love that.

  • SumnerYoung

    A lot is talked about how important it is for an offensive line to be healthy and play together in order to gel. And that is true. But I also think it is very similar for a defensive front seven, particularly in Lebeau’s complex scheme where there are a lot of zone blitzes, fire dogs, stunting, etc. The more a player plays with familiar players around him, the better he will be and the defense as a whole. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Keisel, Foote, Farrior, Joey Porter, James Harrison, Woodley …. all these guys had talent, but playing so much together made them a great defense and helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls last decade.

  • steeltown

    Yet another reason why guys like Worilds and Al Woods should be re-signed

  • SteelCity

    I have read that they have an option year on Cam that I am sure they will pick up. So he is under contract for two more years.

  • JT

    Everybody needs to go watch Cam Sound FX clip Dave tweeted yesterday. The guy is a blast to watch and is growing into a leader just like Kiesel.

  • JT

    Well, Nix barely played at ND so sure I guess he can stand on the NFL sidelines just as well. He’s so out of shape he only played 55% of snaps. He’s not a Dontari Poe first round talent.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Have you watched our CBs play?

  • Kenneth Wilt

    If we can get Hood to attack the ball the same way Heyward has here the past 10 games or so, we can be a force.

  • Virdin Barzey

    I love this kid. Look at him. Can we clone him? We get one more like him on the line at watch now. The light bulb went off for #97 and he got it. Boy does he have it.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    My understanding of the new CBA is that the option would essentially be near the franchise tag level. If they want an opportunity to extend him at a reasonable level, it should be done this year.

  • RMSteeler

    It’s always irritated me about the Steelers not playing early round picks sooner rather than later, especially on defense. Heyward was obviously better than Hood last year, but not playing a better 1st rounder sooner because the 1st rounder from the year before won’t be benched until technique/productivity improves baffles me. They’ve done it on the offensive side, but not the defensive (until this year). If the offense can score TD’s in bunches instead of 4 or 5 field goals, it would open up the possibility of letting they younger players show their stuff before the final year of their contract. Another way would be to let the new players play more against the other team’s ones in preseason games, so they can be evaluated better. Camp phenoms would be better evaluated in play against the ones than the 2’s or 3’s. And, Tomlin has stated that the preseason W-L record doesn’t mean anything to him.

  • Rubem Dornas

    I have just watched to it and I had the same impression you did.

  • Callentown

    How would you feel if he slipped to the second round and we picked him there? I haven’t watched nix this year, so I’m speculating based on rankings, but this spot, IMO, is a good one for the Steelers to pick high.

  • Callentown

    KW, if this is to me, YES. My point isn’t’ that we don’t NEED CB’s. We clearly do.

    The point is that they would not be able to come in in their first year and make an impact where I believe NT is a position in this defense that could.

  • Asmitty56

    Yea well too bad that 330+ 2 gap NTs are going the way of the full back. Big NTs that play far less than half the defensive snaps should not be used as first round picks. First round NTs are reserved for the Poe’s, Ngata’s, and Star’s of the NFL. Nix doesn’t make sense because he doesn’t have the position flexibility to play multiple fronts and play the pass. With the Steelers playing more one gap, along with 4 and 2 man fronts guys like RaShede Hageman and Stephon Tuitt make more sense because the flexibility to play in multiple fronts and play the run and pass.

  • Asmitty56

    You do release that the Steelers have played nearly as much 3-4 two gap as they have in the past? The Steeler’s DL is closer to the Texans DL than it was a few season’s ago. And with that they linemen that can get after the passer as well. Hood is not a long term solution, but they can make him a 3 year stop gap and construct it so it will make it painless to cut him before his 3rd year if they can get someone on the team or a drafted player to step up. We can use that experience until then because Arnfelt and Williams are still at lest 2 years out of having any significant snaps and a rookie won’t make an impact with in that time either.

  • Chad H

    Ah what not sure what you are saying.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Just no… if you want a better NT prospect, get D. McCullers from Tennessee. Nix isn’t even the player Kapoor Lewis-Moore once was (he was a 7th round pick, Kevin Colbert was high on him before the ACL tear). Ziggy Hood is essentially a better prospect than Louis Nix is now, if Nix fall to late rounds, albeit Jesse Williams- maybe. Even i’d rather have Jesse Williams. Nix just isn’t that big of a pass-rusher nor anchor he get his stats mainly due to strong rotations last season (with Te’o and Kapoor) and this year he is with Tuitt and what happens? Nothing.

    I do understand the need of getting a run-stuffer but the problem isn’t within players, its the scheme. We need to follow Gus Bradley’s blueprint because we have BETTER players for it than Seahawks would.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Can’t compare apple to tomato. Apple is considered as a pure vegetable, which what Aaron Smith was- a run-stuffing DE. People still think Tomato is a vegetable and it is an unique food because it has the benefits of both vegetable and fruit categories. That’s Cameron Heyward. He may never be sweet as the run-stuffer Aaron was but he’s much versatile and can do more as pass-rushing and batting down passes.

    Gimme Heyward anyday over Aaron in this modern time of aerial attacking.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    While I do agree on the concept of getting somebody like Star Lotelulei, sadly there’s not any prospect like him this year, we barely missed on him as much we did with Darrell Revis/Patrick Willis. This is just ONE bad year to draft D-linemen and hopefully Steelers FO see same way. Don’t get me wrong, pal I do see those kind of immediate NT prospects (Star, Wilfork, Ngata kinds) that would start on our D-line from day one.

  • Asmitty56

    Yeah sorry about that. My point was that the Steeler’s new system lends themselves to allowing the linemen less responsibilities and more of an attacking role. Instead of having to occupy a space and hold their ground against a linemen and control two gaps if the ball carrier came through them the D-linemen would have to shed the blocker and make the tackle. Now that they are one gapping, the linemen has responsibility for one gap in which they attack and the linebackers have their own as well. Of course it’s not excuse to that design, it’s more of a blend of multiple schemes which allow the team to get the best out of their linemen.

  • alex

    both Worilds and Hayward had great flashes early on, Worilds had been injured and was behind Woodley and our lost silverback, so his breakout in this contract year can be explained, but Hayward always looked good and youve gotta make these decisions with both eyes open!

    both these guys have an evil motor that we must have to survive on D!