The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading to the Bowl. No, not the Super Bowl. The one played the week before the Super Bowl. With 10 players and the coaching staff earning Pro Bowl recognition or being invited to attend, and, of course, failing to reach the championship game, they are making the most of the end of this football season.
Even John Mitchell, who has been coaching for decades upon decades, finds himself somewhat energized by the trip to Orlando this year, and sees the positive aspects. “It’s good from two standpoints”, the defensive line coach told the team’s website. “Players get the recognition they deserve, they get to meet players from other teams that they don’t always get a chance to meet”.
And beyond that, “for the coaches it gives us the chance to see the players we don’t get to see. You don’t want to be there, that isn’t your goal. But you make the best of the situation”. And this year, Mitchell will get the opportunity to work with players such as Yannick Ngakoue, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack—in addition to the player he knows best currently in the NFL, Cameron Heyward.
While Mitchell has a long coaching history, the player he has coached the longest that is still in the game would be Heyward, who as a 2011 first-round draft pick has now played seven seasons under him. he has played the majority of the past five seasons as a starter, and he is coming off his best year to date.
“You look at Cam and the way he has worked, positioned himself, and the type of man he is. I am really happy for him”, Mitchell recently said about Heyward. “When you do a good job, you want people to recognize you. Cam did it the old-fashioned way, by hard work. He wasn’t a front runner. He came in here and played behind two good players when he started, took the horse by the reins, and did the things he should do to be a good football player. I am tickled to death he has the chance to play in the Pro Bowl at this stage in his career”.
When the Steelers drafted Heyward, they didn’t bring him in as an immediate need pick. They still had Brett Keisel, who if I recall correctly had just been to the Pro Bowl. While injuries were clearly precipitating the end for Aaron Smith at the time, there was already Ziggy Hood in his stead, a 2009 first-round pick. And so Heyward had to wait.
Then at a certain point, they couldn’t hold him back any longer. Once he cracked the starting lineup, there was no looking back, and he has continued to rack up the tackles and the sacks since then. In 2017, he became just the second defensive lineman in team history to record 10 or more sacks in a season, leading the team with 12.
Heyward was passed over for the initial round of voting for the Pro Bowl, but was voted a first-team All-Pro anyway. He is heading there as an alternate, but that makes him no less deserving, and Mitchell doesn’t see that as diminishing the honor in any way.