At 26 years old, Cameron Heyward, son of the late, great Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, is emerging as a true leader on the Steelers' defense. It's obvious on the field this spring as Heyward is being seen and heard as a talented and hard-working throwback to the organization's last Super Bowl era.
CAMERON HEYWARD, defensive end, Pittsburgh Steelers
Q: "Big Men Running" seems to be Mike Tomlin's theme this year.
Q: And you've got all the other big men running, too. I hear you yelling to the other guys, "I see you Tuitt!"
Q: What do you think of that as a theme? You didn't need to buy in, did you?
CH: Honestly, I've been doing this since I was in college and in high school. That's part of the DNA. But that's how we get big plays around here, big men running, guys hustling to the ball. You can look at Kansas City last year where Stephon Tuitt ran to the ball and caused a fumble. What you don't realize is you had everybody else running, too, just to get the fumble. If you don't have all the guys running there, we don't get the fumble and then it just goes unnoticed. We preach it every day. Coach always says, "Big men gotta run and little men gotta tackle." We've all got something ugly to our jobs, but you enjoy it.
Q: Have you heard that from every coach along the way?
Q: That get-off drill you guys do first in practice, what do you call that?
CH: The get-off drill (chuckles).
Q: It seems like you're forever trying to beat the "Law Dawg," whom Tomlin routinely names as the winner. Is the game rigged?
CH: Yeah. Of course. You know, "Law Dawg" is someone's favorite. We're not gonna point it out. But, you know, he's the first son, so you're always competing against that.
Q: (Laughter) But that gets to another point, that there's so much playfulness in practice.
Q: And you're part of it. It reminds me of Aaron Smith and James Farrior and Larry Foote, when everyone was working intensely, and having fun, and it all seemed to be a cycle of success. Are you feeling that way out there these days?
CH: Yeah. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're in the wrong business. You're going to get burnt out quick. I think we've got a good group of guys that love to compete, whether it's in a get-off drill, or in practice, off the field, we're trying to get better and we're going to push each other to the limit.
Q: Did I hear Tomlin calling you "Head"?
CH: I guess so (laughs).
Q: How do you feel about that?
CH: I guess it's part of my dad's nickname, but I guess I got a big head, too.
Q: I wouldn't say that. I would think it's just from your dad's nickname.
CH: Yeah, I think it's just from my dad's nickname, and it's easier. He'll call me Cam but most times it's 'Head.'
Q: I noticed you posted a tribute to your dad on the anniversary of his death. How old were you when he died?
CH: I was 17.
Q: I remember sitting down with your dad and your uncle.
CH: Uncle Nate. Yeah, he was Pitt's fullback and a DB.
Q: That was way back in their college days. I don't feel that old. But as you get older, is your respect for his legacy growing?
CH: I respect him more that I've been here. I get to hear more stories, how his interactions were. I'm having a kid so I want to make sure they remember him, and what better place to be remembered than here? Everybody's got a story about my dad. I just hope one day they have stories about me, too.
Q: Well, what are you seeing in this team right now?
CH: We're a young group, but we have the capabilities of being the best team, offense, defense and special teams. You look at our offense; we're loaded. I'm not just speaking out about nothing. If you really look at it, we've got a top-tier quarterback, a top -- no, a couple of -- top-tier wide receivers, you've got a running back, you've got a great offensive line, you've got good tight ends. You're loaded. And I think when you look at it, it's going to come down to defense. That's the way we want it. We plan on proving people wrong that have written us off, saying we're this, saying we're that, but we're excited about this year. We're excited for the challenge ahead. We know there are going to be games when it depends on the defense and we plan on sticking our feet in the dirt and getting to work.
Q: There are a lot of well-known names on that defense, from college, high picks. It hasn't all come together but it really could turn into a powerhouse.
CH: Right. Exactly. Why not have two juggernauts? That's the way you want it. We're competitive now. You know, we hold ourselves to a high standard when we go up against each other right now. If you're competing against the best, why can't you be the best too?