By Scott Brown, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, April 30, 2011
The player that the Steelers presented with a No. 1 jersey, symbolic of his place in this year's NFL Draft, got benched his sophomore season at Ohio State.
It happened away from the bright lights and roaring fans at Ohio Stadium, and Cameron Heyward never learned from it. That is actually a good thing, Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said Friday.
Heacock pulled Heyward from what essentially was a walk through after the overzealous defensive end buried the starting quarterback on a pass play. It wasn't the first time that Heyward had gone "100 miles an hour," as Heacock recalled, during a drill that called for much lesser speeds.
"He felt bad, and by no means did he try and do it," Heacock said of the hit that earned Heyward a permanent place on the sidelines for that particular drill. "He can't go just half speed."
That relentlessness is a major reason why the Steelers introduced Heyward as their first-round draft pick Friday afternoon — and to large degree, brought him home. The son of the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who crashed and dashed his way to stardom as a running back at Pitt in the 1980s, was born in Pittsburgh and still has grandparents and other relatives living in the area.
"I think he fits us. I think we fit him," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a fellow Ohio State graduate. "We've got enough Michigan guys around here. It's good to have a couple of Buckeyes."
To say Heyward shares that sentiment is an understatement.
His draft experience qualified as a bizzaro one, as Heyward actually wanted to fall in the first round so the Steelers could take him. That is how much he wants to play in Pittsburgh.
"It's a funny story," Heyward said, "because the (New York) Jets were picking, and my phone rang, and I knew they had their pick in, and they hadn't announced the Pittsburgh was going to pick, so I got nervous, and my agent came up to me (with his phone) and said, 'It's a Pittsburgh number.' I said 'Thank God.' I'm just very thankful."
So are the Steelers.
"I'm not sure whose smile was bigger last night when we drafted him: coach LeBeau or (defensive line) coach (John) Mitchell," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "Obviously, we're excited to have him here."
The Steelers have the luxury of not rushing Heyward and letting him learn under starters Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, as well as Ziggy Hood, their first-round pick in 2009.
The 6-foot-5 Heyward, who played at around 305 pounds last season at Ohio State, may be able to make more of an immediate impact than Hood did two years ago.
Ohio State incorporates some of LeBeau's principles into its defensive schemes. And Heacock is among the Buckeyes defensive coaches that have dropped in on LeBeau at Steelers headquarters — and not just to make a social call.
On how that will help Heyward make the transition from Ohio State to the Steelers, LeBeau said, "There will definitely be some carryover and some things he can relate to. They run some of our pressures, and their scheme is not the same, but I think there are some similarities."
Heyward's assimilation into the Steelers has already started. A number of players, including strong safety Troy Polamalu, have welcomed him to the team on their Twitters pages.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward are among the Steelers that have called Heyward.
Any concerns the Steelers might have about Heyward, who said he is fully recovered from the elbow surgery he underwent in January, don't concern his character.
He has already completed the requirements for his degree at Ohio State, and Heacock said Heyward regularly visited hospitals and elementary schools during his time in Columbus.
"I don't know if I ever coached anybody that had the character and did things the right way he did academically, athletically, socially," Heacock said. "He was just flawless."
Not that Heyward sees himself that way.
"I have a lot to learn and just take baby steps and continue to improve," Heyward said. "I feel as though I owe this city a lot. To start off my career here and hopefully end it here, that's a true pleasure."