Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

Cam Heyward and his pectineus muscle are mad and ready to go

Being a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense is not for the faint of heart or those seeking individual glory. Playing the two-gap means taking on double teams and sacrificing yourself for others behind you to make plays, all the while being expected to shed dual blocks and stop running plays before they get started. It’s played in the heart of the storm where it gets murky and dangerous, exploding with violent collisions and constant threats to make ankles, knees, and groins move in ways that they were never designed to do.

I was a ride or die Steelers fan as a kid starting in 1980, but it wasn’t until I was a young adult that I really started to see the game. Even then, I had no appreciation or understanding for the defensive line. When asked, Dick LeBeau would always point first to Aaron Smith and how crucial his play was to the defense. My uneducated mind would be thinking “Aaron Smith? Was his name called once today?” Once I actually started watching the play along the line instead of just following the ball, I started to understand why Coach LeBeau spoke as he did about the defensive line. It’s a travesty that Aaron Smith’s recorded stats only garnered enough attention for one Pro Bowl appearance. That is not football justice, to borrow a Coach Tomlin saying. However, I would surmise that all Smith really cared about was Coach LeBeau and his teammates’ opinions on his play. Statistics can’t tell the story on what he meant to the Steelers success, but listen to any interview from those days and what was said about him certainly can.

Dave Schofield has a great Stat Geek podcast from a few weeks ago, which you can hear in the player below, detailing how the numbers don’t tell an accurate story of a player such as Cam Heyward. Dave makes it easy to understand that stats will not show how an individual actually impacts the team as a whole. Go back and give it a listen if you missed it, especially if you are of the mindset that Cam’s time is over and not worth the salary now. Yes, he has a large cap hit this year at around $22M. The Steelers can and will get a two year extension done and spread that out. I know the Steelers are loyal, sometimes to a fault. That is not the case with Cam Heyward and what he brings to the team.

My wife is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and I played Cam’s Not Just Football podcast for her where he detailed exactly what was repaired with his recent surgery. She was amazed that he was able to dress for the games, much less play in them. For those of you that don’t know, he tore off the pectineus muscle that connects the pelvic bone to the upper femur. As you might imagine, it’s somewhat important for movement and strength. She confirmed that rapid movements, sprinting, changes of direction, and positions where the legs were stretched would all cause massive pain and impact performance. Look up Cam’s job description, and that covers pretty much everything he is asked to do. She also said an athlete like Heyward with his work ethic and the resources afforded him could be recovered and fully ready to go for the upcoming season.

Cam played through excruciating pain last season. While his pass rushing stats were down, his run rate wins were still impressive, especially considering his injury. It’s easy to dismiss the pain of others when we ourselves don’t feel it. Watch a replay from last year, and instead of sitting on the couch eating snacks and drinking a refreshing adult beverage, have your buddy smack you in the crotch with a 2×4 and then do burpees for the duration of every defensive snap. It might give you a greater appreciation of what is happening on the field. I guess I should probably say now for legal reasons to absolutely not do that, unless it’s your normal routine. You do you, I am not here to judge.

Despite all this, some will still doubt Cam and think his time is past. I do not. I remember a Sunday night game against the Chargers where Heyward seemed to be the only guy on the field. He was running down receivers and ball carriers 30 and 40 yards downfield, and gave so much of himself that I grew concerned for his well-being. You don’t question the heart of a guy like that. Cam has heard those questions, and he’s getting angry. I don’t blame him. This guy has given his all for the team every play, and only he knows what’s left in his tank. Nothing is guaranteed in life or football, but I would think his family will have to turn the Walter Payton Man of the Year statue around and face the wall during games this year so it can’t witness the ferocity Cam will unleash against his victims…I mean…opponents. Having a young guy like Keeanu Benton out there more will definitely help. And if the Steelers do go OT and Center with their first two picks this draft and get that mauling, ball control offensive line they have been prioritizing, it will only be that much better. A rested, healthy, and angry Cam Heyward will make big plays, including the ones that don’t count on a stat sheet.

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