Since Chuck Noll’s arrival in 1969, defense has formed the backbone with the franchise’s legacy of excellence. Irnoically enough, the Steelers Nation cannot lay claim to the same sort of unbroken line of succession on the defensive line the way it does with its Linebacker Legacy.
The original Steel Curtain, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, Joe Green, and Dwight White set the gold-standard for excellence at the position. Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton deserved mention alongside them. In between them the Steelers have started a spectrum of players from the very good Joel Steed, to the good such as Gerald Williams, Keith Willis and Kevin Henry, to the “not so much” – Keith Gary, Aaron Jones, and Donald Evans.
As we do every year at Thanksgiving, Steel Curtain Rising stops to take stock and give thanks for something Steelers related.
At Thanksgiving 2014 Steel Curtain Rising stops to recognize the blossoming of a young defensive lineman who one day might be worth of mention with franchise greats.
- That player is none other than Cameron Heyward.
When the Steelers picked Heyward in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert proclaimed it was a great day for the franchise. Heyward of course was the son of Pitt great Iron Head Craig Heyward. A player with deep ties to community of Pittsburgh was coming home.
Yet after two years, Heyward remained an enigma to Steelers Nation. Stuck behind Smith, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood, Heyward looked strong when he got playing time, but why didn’t he get more? It took an 0-4 start, but Steelers Nation got its wish as Mike Tomlin started Heyward over Hood.
- And Heyward has been a one man wrecking crew since then.
3-4 defensive ends in Dick LeBeau’s system are not supposed to get gaudy statistics. Yet in 8 starts he’s registered 3 sacks. But that number, while impressive, does not measure his impact, his On the Field Presence. In a short time as a starter, Heyward is showing a knack for being around the ball at the right moment, and for making “timely plays in a timely manner.”
- To wit, he’s already recovered two fumbles (yes, that is counting Jason Worild’s strip-sack vs. the Bills)
- Although uncredited, Heyward clearly hit Matthew Stafford helping force a game-sealing interception vs. Detroit
Heyward still has a ways to go, and still must of course sustain the flashes he’s shown. But he certainly is one reason for Steelers Nation to be thankful this Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation
Football and the Steelers are of course only a small part of life. And fortunately, I have many, many non-football reasons to be thankful at this time of year. I sincerely hope you can say the same.
And with that, Steel Curtain Rising wishes everyone in Steelers Nation a very Happy Thanksgiving.