Friday, April 29, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers waited nearly 3 1/2 hours to make their first-round pick Thursday night in New York. When their turn finally came at No. 31, they barely needed 3 1/2 seconds to take Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward.
I'm thinking they like the big fella.
"This is a special moment for this organization," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "He's one of those special players I mentioned the other day. He has impeccable character, work habits and toughness. It's hard to find a hole with this guy. We got a guy we really coveted."
It's a pick that makes a lot of sense. Aaron Smith is 36 and coming off three major injuries in four seasons. Brett Keisel will be 33 in September, Casey Hampton 34. It's time to get younger on the defensive line.
Heyward -- son of former Pitt star Craig "Ironhead" Heyward-- was very productive at Ohio State. He should be a starter by the 2012 season.
Who wouldn't be happy with that?
Other than Maurkice Pouncey, of course.
The widespread speculation that had the Steelers trading up to get Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey was crazy. He went at No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins. It would have cost way too much -- perhaps second-, third- and even fourth-round draft choices -- to move up that high. Giving up that much for a guard just isn't worth it. I'm not sure it's worth it for any player other than a franchise quarterback.
Look at what the Atlanta Falcons had to give to the Cleveland Browns to move up to sixth from 27th to take Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones: A second- and fourth-round pick this year and a first- and fourth-round pick in 2012. That's insane. For a wide receiver? Congratulations to the Browns for pulling off that heist. They had the best first day of the draft.
Even though the Steelers were a Super Bowl team last season, they have too many other needs to give up a draft bank for Mike Pouncey.
That isn't to say the selection of Pouncey wouldn't have been a sexy pick and made for a wonderful story. Couldn't you just imagine him and his twin brother, Maurkice, holding down two-fifths of the Steelers' line for the next 10-12 years? What an upgrade Mike Pouncey would have been over Steelers guards Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu.
But the pressure on Pouncey would have been enormous. Steelers fans would have expected him to be just as good as Maurkice, who became the team's best lineman virtually from the first day of training camp and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Would that have been fair to Mike?
Know this about the kid: He looked absolutely thrilled when the Dolphins called him. Why not? He was picked higher than his brother, who went to the Steelers with the 18th pick. He also gets to stay home in Florida. The family is from Lakeland. Maurkice Pouncey, who was with his brother at the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York, put on a Dolphins ballcap to support his twin and almost looked jealous.
I said almost.
I'm happy for Mike Pouncey.
I'm also happy the Steelers kept their second-, third- and fourth-round picks.
Those needs, remember?
It's nice to think the Steelers will get a cornerback in the second or third round tonight. They had better get a cornerback. They will need to pick up two if they can't sign Ike Taylor as a free agent. It's frightening to think the team will go into next season with Bryant McFadden and William Gay as its starters.
Colbert told everyone before the draft that he wasn't as down on his corners as others were. "We got to the Super Bowl with those guys." That's true, but the Steelers' cornerbacks struggled big time against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his superb group of receivers. They're going to struggle against the top quarterbacks in the NFL. The team needs to re-sign Taylor and upgrade through the draft.
It's also nice to think the Steelers will get an offensive lineman, preferably a tackle. Who knows how healthy Willie Colon and Max Starks are going to be next season? Or even if Colon will be on the team because of his uncertain status as a free agent? Can you count on Flozell Adams, 36 next month, who saved the team in 2010 after Colon's Achilles tendon injury? Do you want to have to count on Jonathan Scott again next season?
Day 1 of the 2011 NFL draft is in the books. The Steelers are off to a really nice start. But they still have much to work to do. It's nice that they have the picks to do it.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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Ohio State's Heyward a mirror image of his father
Thursday, July 29, 2010
By Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is projected to be a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- What could a defender do when powerful running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward -- who weighed anywhere from 250-325 pounds during his playing days at Pitt and in the NFL -- ran the football directly at him?
"I would go straight-up with him, see how tough he really was, make him bring it," 6-foot-6, 287-pound defensive lineman Cameron Heyward of Ohio State said of his father, the late Ironhead.
A wide smile crossed Cameron's face.
"That's my mentality; I'd take it head-on, see who had the stronger head. I mean, they called him Ironhead, but I'd make him bring it."
Ironhead Heyward (who died in May 2006 at 39 from a brain tumor) would have been proud of the noggin-knocking response from his son. Cameron Heyward will be a senior for the Buckeyes this season and is one of the finest college defensive linemen in the country, projected to be a first-round NFL draft selection at season's end.
Cameron Heyward isn't one to back down from much.
That's the way you learn how to function when, as a kid you get the news that your stout, strapping, NFL-tough father might not have long to live. The man everyone called Ironhead for his impenetrable cranium had Chordoma, malignant growths that wrapped around his brain. He died after a seven-year fight.
"The doctor told him, 'This could be fatal,' and I was in there, I heard that when they told him," Cameron Heyward said. "That's not something easy to hear about your father, about someone who was my best friend. When I heard that, I didn't know what to think."
Cameron Heyward did not know what to think when the tumors forced a stroke, paralysis, blindness in his father before they killed him.
He did not know what to think when his father set off for hospice care, a destination with a presumed ending.
All he could do back then, while he was busy becoming a high school football star in Suwanee, Ga., was take it all in with his two younger brothers, watch and learn how his father dealt with his affliction.
Ironhead did not make it to Cameron's high school football senior night, dying in May between Cameron's junior and senior seasons.
It is not the very end Cameron remembers most, though. He recalls the selfless nature with which his father went about things, even when he knew his own time was dwindling.
"He was still writing to the others who were sick, encouraging them," Cameron Heyward said. "It was like, there's this big thing facing him, and he wasn't worried about himself, he was more worried about encouraging others he had met who were facing tough times. That says a lot about the type of man he was. He was just someone who was so willing to help others."
And those who know Cameron best say that is how he is, willing to help others, provide them with a smile any way he can -- the same way his father was and the same as his mother, Pittsburgh native Charlotte Heyward-Blackwell.
Cameron Heyward lived in Pittsburgh until he was about 7 and spent some teenage summers with his maternal grandparents in Highland Park. In February he returned to attend the wedding of his aunt, Shannon Jordan, to former Pitt football player Vernon Botts.
The young man who usually is noticed most when driving his burly shoulders into a quarterback made his impact this time with some strokes of a pen, and it left an indelible mark on his family.
"He took the time to sit and write a letter for the wedding," said Judy Jordan, his grandmother and retired Pittsburgh Public Schools fifth-grade teacher.
"When our daughter read it, she could barely hold it together from that point on. Cameron explained in that letter how happy he was for her and Vernon. Cameron wrote how our daughter's relationship inspired him to achieve that kind of happiness and how seeing them happy inspired him to want to be a great man every day.
"That was something very special. But that is just the kind of young man he is."
Heyward's grandfather, Rufus Jordan, a retired vice president of the city's teacher's union, added, "So humble. Cam is just so humble."
Cameron remembers that, as a boy, he was scooped up by his father and taken into the Atlanta Falcons' locker room after each home game.
"He was the big kid, the big joker," Cameron Heyward said. "He was just fun to be around."
So much so, it seems not much time passes between stories of his dad.
When someone -- particularly from one generation back -- bumps into Cameron, the talk always turns to his father.
"When you hear about my dad, it is almost like he's immortal," Heyward said. "You can definitely say, when he encountered a person, he inspired them, or he made them laugh, or after that meeting they at least remembered they had met him. He left an imprint.
"I guess that's what I carry with me most about him. He left an imprint, and it would be nice to think I could do the same."
Colin Dunlap: email@example.com or 412-263-1459.
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