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Heyward-Bey on rise from Oakland ashes

Darrius Heyward-Bey might be biggest surprise of three Steelers lineup changes this week.

PITTSBURGH -- According to trusted reports, Ben Roethlisberger will be named the starter today and rookie first-round pick Artie Burns has moved ahead of Will Gay as the Pittsburgh Steelers first-team cornerback.

For those who watch practice, those moves had become inevitable.

But a third move may come as a bit of a surprise: Darrius Heyward-Bey, he of the so-called bust status about four years ago, has moved to the top of the depth chart. If Heyward-Bey doesn't start Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, he'll be in heavy rotation at the top of the receiving unit.

The depth chart was changed for the game after it had initially been released, and after Markus Wheaton had returned to Monday's practice. It was a move that raised an eyebrow with everyone but Heyward-Bey.

"I don't know anything about the depth chart, so that means nothing to me," he said before Wednesday's practice, a practice in which he lined up with the first team opposite Antonio Brown.

After practice, Heyward-Bey merely shrugged.

"I go out there and just do what they tell me to do," he said.

It doesn't matter to Heyward-Bey because the man doesn't care about such trivialities anymore. That will happen when you've been to the bottom and peered into the abyss known as the end of your career.

Heyward-Bey, of course, was the seventh pick of the 2009 draft by Oakland's Al Davis, a guy who cherished speed over just about everything else. And Heyward-Bey had that kind of speed. He was timed in the 40 at 4.23 in college and at 4.30 at the NFL Combine. He was a track sensation who came late to the game of football, and at 6-2, 210 Heyward-Bey had the size and Davis thought he could turn it all into gold on the field.

It didn't happen.

Heyward-Bey started 53 games and caught 140 passes and scored 11 touchdowns and was cut for financial purposes prior to his fifth season.

He bounced to the Indianapolis Colts, and then to the Steelers for a pair of one-year contracts before he finally evoked enough confidence in the team to procure a three-year deal this past offseason.

And now he's a starter.

What a long strange trip indeed.

"I'm a way better football player, mentally, physically, the way I think about the game, the way I go about it," Heyward-Bey said. "Coach (Richard) Mann has helped a lot in helping me becoming a better route runner."

Heyward-Bey was asked to talk about what happened in Oakland and he just says, "It's a long story."

When the questioning persists, he'll add, with a chuckle, "Good luck getting anything out of me."

Not that he's a man with a surly attitude. Not even close. And he eventually did give an inch.

"I was a top 10 pick and there were expectations from people upstairs, the fans, the teammates. Everybody's looking at you," he said.

Was it crushing?

"Oh, man," he said with a pause and then a laugh before saying, "Maybe."

Did he need to leave? Were the high expectations weighing him down?

"Yeah, had to leave a lot behind," he said. "Somebody asked me what changed. I said I stopped caring. They said stopped caring about what. I said everything."

Heyward-Bey said he cares only about his mom, his family, his teammates and this organization.

And his performance on the field?

"Nah. I don't even care. I don't care about anything, man."

Anyone who saw Heyward-Bey point out an officiating error against the New England Patriots on a special-teams play knows better. Heyward-Bey was right and it helped the Steelers score points before the half.

He also showed that he cared -- and that he still has those 4.3 jets -- on the 60-yard end around in which he flattened star safety Reshad Jones at midfield before scoring against the Miami Dolphins and giving the Steelers an 8-3 lead.

And of course Heyward-Bey showed that he cared on his 14-yard touchdown catch against the Patriots and his 31-yard touchdown catch against the Kansas City Chiefs.

He has five catches this season and has scored three touchdowns.

Seriously, what kind of play does he care about most?

"Everybody loves scoring touchdowns," he said. "But right now at this point, where I'm at, if you make a big play on special teams, man, that's going to bring so much energy and momentum to your team, so I look forward to those. I'm always pumped up for those."

If he were only pumped to tell his story, the classic rags-to-riches-to-rags-back-to-riches story.

"I wish I could give you more," he said. "In life sometimes you've got to rely on yourself. You've got to have confidence in yourself and build that each and every day. Rome wasn't built overnight. You know what you can do out there, and I knew that by myself. I just had to bring it out."


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