PITTSBURGH — When Pittsburgh does their pregame introductions at home, they usually switch back and forth between the offense and defense. But after doing the defense on Sunday, they doubled down on Thursday, introducing it again. This time, they had a particular reason with the return of Cam Heyward, who had dealt with recovery from core muscle surgery for seven weeks. It has been a long journey, Heyward, who has seen all the NFL has to offer.
But Heyward never fell away from the game for that long. The captain of the Steelers’ defense got emotional following the team’s win over the Titans because of all the hard work it took for him to be back on the field. Not only did he get back onto the field, but he played at a high level. Heyward’s inclusion helped slow down Derrick Henry, even in a limited sample compared to his usual snaps.
“I’m just grateful. You can’t ever take this for granted,” Heyward said. “Before the game, I was a mess. I was forgetting stuff, and couldn’t find my pre-workout. I had to run back to my car in flip-flops. It was just that I was a mess. But I miss times like this. Being in the rotation with those guys, those in and out plays, I just got more and more comfortable as the game went on.”
With Montravius Adams suffering an ankle injury, the Steelers leaned heavily on Keeanu Benton and Larry Ogunjobi with Heyward back. They had a plan for Heyward, and he followed that, with the snaps to ramp up the more he plays. But Cam Heyward means so much to the Steelers, and Mike Tomlin knows it, too.
“Cam Heyward was back,” Tomlin said. “Cam’s presence is significant, guys, particularly in terms of stopping the run. You better put four hands on that guy (Derrick Henry) or you’re not going to have a day. I’m appreciative os his presence. I’m appreciative of the effort of all of the guys.”
Pittsburgh activated Heyward from injured reserve on Wednesday. Now that he is back, the team is mostly at full strength but waiting for Minkah Fitzpatrick to return from his hamstring injury. But Heyward’s return freed up great things for Benton and Ogunjobi. Both players ended up creating havoc and taking a step in the right direction. That’s all correlated to the impact Heyward has on the field.