Despite the fact that Cameron Heyward will only turn 25 tomorrow, he is already among the veterans of the team—especially along the defensive line after this offseason’s departures—and it’s a fact that he’s quite aware of himself.
That’s a 25-year old with only 13 career starts, by the way.
But behind him along the defensive line right now are the likes of Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt, both entering their second seasons, and Cam Thomas, who’s only been in the league a year longer than Heyward, but he’s new to the team.
Only Steve McLendon’s been here longer. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, the 28-year old nose tackle is perhaps the most experienced on the roster, starting one game in 2011, and then taking over the nose this past season, missing only two games due to injury.
As far as the makeup of the team is concerned, he and Heyward are the old dogs now. He’s “an older guy”, in his own words. “That’s different. Me and Steve are old, and that’s weird.
“But we’re trying to bring Cam Thomas along. We have guys like Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams learning a lot. We’re just trying to grow. It’s trying to pick them up where guys haven’t played or have played at different places and just trying to get them used to playing Steelers football”.
Part of being one of ‘the older guys’ is taking ‘the younger guys’ under your wing, teaching them the way, and teaching them to be accountable, all the while holding yourself accountable for their success or failure.
In other words, it’s about being a leader, and it’s become clear over the course of the past calendar year that Heyward has that makeup.
This offseason, he is working with another one of the team’s young leaders, center Maurkice Pouncey, to help reorganize the team with a blue-collar attitude under the banner of honesty and transparency.
The two young leaders—back-to-back first-round selections in 2010 and 2011—make up part of the nucleus that is to be the next generation of the team’s internal brain trust; the inner council of player leadership.
Pouncey already has the credentials—three Pro Bowls during his first three seasons—but Heyward needed this past season to establish himself.
Now that he has planted his flag, it’s time he makes the rest fall in line behind him. And that is what he set out to do with Pouncey:
“Me and Pouncey have talked about it a little bit. I think the main thing is we’re worried about what we can do right now. Just learning guys, getting guys to meet guys, and just be honest with each other. We’re trying to be a very transparent group that just comes to work every day.
“We’re trying to be an honest group and make sure everybody is accountable. That’s our main goal this offseason”.