"Perfect," said Heyward of the short time he's been in camp. "I'm learning a lot and I'm getting in good shape."
He's certainly doing the latter, as the tutelage of Ziggy Hood, who had the rookie running sprints after practice, had Heyward gasping for air throughout the interview. The first-rounder admits that Ziggy has taken him under his wing in his first training camp.
"Ziggy and Steve [McLendon] both. Those guys, they're teaching me a lot and just showing me the ropes – what to expect, what to do on the sidelines, what to do in the game – just how to be a professional."
In Tuesday's practice though, the focus was on what Heyward could do on the field, as he participated in the first of what figures to be many OL/DL one-on-one drills at Saint Vincent. The rookie performed admirably, exhibiting some physicality while showing off the lateral agility that will make him a hard man to stop when the season starts. The humble Heyward wasn't sold on his effort though, calling his performance in the drill "sub-par."
"Lot of improvement still to happen," Heyward said. "I've just got to continue to use my hands and be a smart player, as opposed to just a physical player."
If he can pull it off, he and his mentor, Hood, will be a duo to be reckoned with for the next decade.
MORE FROM ONE-ON-ONES: A few other players stood out in the meetings between offensive and defensive lines. Rookie guard Keith Williams, who has been starting in place of Chris Kemoeatu while the latter works his way off the PUP list, performed well against everyone save for Heyward (he's also been solid during team drills). Fellow de-facto starter Chris Scott, who is holding Willie Colon's spot, also did well, showing a nice burst of raw power.
Defensively, the Chris Hoke signing may have lit a fire under undrafted rookie defensive tackle Anthony Gray, who simply abused guard Dorian Brooks on more than one occasion. Gray, who was a draft-day consideration by the team in the later rounds, probably won't make the roster with Hoke back, but the team would be best-served keeping the rookie around on the practice squad.
YOUNG MONEY INJURED: The Young Money Family member with the signature "Young Money" nickname, Emmanuel Sanders, will miss the next three weeks with a lingering foot ailment that has him in a walking boot. Sanders expects to be back for and participate in the team's final two preseason games.
In the short-term, fellow sophomore Antonio Brown took advantage of his first-team reps during Tuesday's practices, making some great catches, including one 50-yard play where Ben Roethlisberger may have scrambled for half of the two-and-a-half hour session. He did have one black mark on his performance, causing an interception on a ball that hit him square in the chest and bounced into the air. All in all though, Brown performed well when he needed to.
Unlike Brown, Limas Sweed posted a so-so performance on a day when he was pretty much invisible. In addition, veteran wideout Arnaz Battle, a willing blocker who's showing well in camp this year, will help minimize the damage while Sanders heals.
Long-term, though, this three-week setback in an already abbreviated offseason could prevent Sanders from becoming a true number two behind Mike Wallace early in the season. Hines Ward may be in great shape thanks to his stint on Dancing With the Stars, but he's 35 years old and it's tough to look past his decline in receptions (59) and yards per game (47.2) last season, his lowest numbers since the 2000-01 season. This team needs someone to capitalize off all the space provided by Wallace. Sanders can do that; Hines can't.
OTHER INJURIES: Rookie Marcus Gilbert was again held out of practice along with Sanders. Rookie CB Curtis Brown again struggled with what appears to be heat-related illness. The third-rounder, who was receiving reps with the first team during team drills, was struggling to catch his breath during a break in the action.
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED:
1. I must be able to see the future. In Sunday's "Five Things," I wondered why the Steelers, with all their veteran re-signings, hadn't brought back DT Chris Hoke. A few hours later, Hoke was back with the team. Hoke is a perfect number two behind Casey Hampton and his presence fills a need that wouldn't have been adequately filled by any other body currently in camp.
2B. Remember, though, that none of these deals will be made official until Wednesday night, so that the players in question aren't forced to sit out of practice by the CBA.
3. The Steelers decided to take a dip into the free-agent market and came up with veteran TE John Gilmore, a strong blocker with 53 career catches in nine seasons. If "strong blocking TE capable of catching 5-10 balls a season" sounds familiar to you, that's because David Johnson can fill the same role; he's also younger, will cost less, and has two years of experience in Pittsburgh's offense.
4. Dennis Dixon signed his tender and will join the fray in a three-man race for the two spots behind Roethlisberger. Either Dixon or Charlie Batch are likely to be the odd-man out when cuts are made, which is bad news because the third man in the race, Byron Leftwich, looked absolutely dreadful on Tuesday. He hit a few bullets to Battle, but most of his throws sailed over everyone or were at the shins.
5. Practices are running about 20-30 minutes longer these days than in years past, most definitely because the new CBA forbids two-a-days.