Should new Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ultimately wind up making the final 53 man roster out of training camp, there’s a strong possibility that he’ll have to contribute on special teams. While playing on special teams is pretty much something that’s new to him, Heyward-Bey showed late last season that he might be able to contribute in that phase of the game.
According to December report by Mike Wells of ESPN.com, Heyward-Bey never played on special teams in high school or in college. In addition, he never played on special teams during his first four seasons in the league with the Oakland Raiders. That all changed late last season when the Maryland product was tumbled down the Indianapolis Colts depth chart in December because of his poor play at wide receiver. The former first-round draft pick was asked to play on special teams following his demotion and he didn’t complain about it.
“I’m taking it and running with it,” Heyward-Bey said at the time. “This is the first time that I’ve ever been in the playoffs, first time with double-digit wins. I put my ego to the side. I’m all about this team. I think we’re a special team. I just want to go out there and help anyway I can.”
In the final three games of the 2013 regular season, Heyward-Bey was credited with playing 29 special teams snaps and as far as I can tell, all of them came on the punt and kick coverage teams. In the Week 16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Heyward-Bey recorded the first special team tackle of his career as he raced downfield as an outside gunner to tackle punt returner Dexter McCluster for a two-yard loss. You can see the replay of that tackle in the two animated gifs below.
A week later, Heyward-Bey registered his second career special teams tackle during a first quarter kickoff against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two animated gifs of the play are below and it’s easy to pick out Heyward-Bey as he’s the first Colts player down the field. He gets flattened at the end of the play, but helped clog the lane and appears to have been the first player to get a hand on Jaguars return man Jordan Todman.
In the playoffs, Heyward-Bey played 11 more snaps on special teams in the game against the Chiefs and was credited with an assisted tackle. He suffered a hamstring injury in that game, however, and was forced to miss the playoff game against the New England Patriots the following week as a result.
The Steelers have given Heyward-Bey a shot to continue his career, but with that shot comes having to make contributions on special teams. It sounds like he doesn’t consider himself above it and as a result, Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith might very well have the final say as to whether or not he makes the final 53 man roster in September.