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Steelers TE Impressing in Swiss Army Knife Role



Steelers TE Connor Heyward

PITTSBURGH — Connor Heyward joined the Steelers last year expecting to be a pure tight end after converting from running back at Michigan State. But things changed for Heyward quickly when the Steelers saw what his unique skill set and body type could do in Matt Canada’s offense. The more the seasons dragged along, the more positions Heyward played. However, he likely has not seen the entire repertoire he can unleash on offense.

If you ask Heyward what positions he plays, he no longer answers tight end. But he won’t say fullback, either. No, Heyward is a football player. He’s a Swiss army knife that helps to change the fullback position into a new modern reincarnation of the old, dying position in football. On Tuesday, Heyward did get a taste of that old school football.

Heyward confirmed he started to work as a traditional fullback. As in, legitimately with his hand in the ground and going into holes for lead blocks. Heyward is a swiss army knife that plays not just fullback, but about five other positions on the field, too. He can split out to a Y or F tight end, play H-Back, running back, and traditional in-line tight end on top of the traditional fullback. But the traditional fullback spot will be a little bit different for Heyward.

“It’s different, even though I did it last year because we had Derek Watt, so I’m doing it a bit more,” Heyward said. “Whenever that guy had the ball, he converted it. I’m looking forward to doing it more. You know, running the ball, catching it out of the backfield, and doing different things like that. Whatever the coaches ask me.”

Heyward learned the importance of blocking angles from Watt last year at the position. He heads into his first full year there, ready to tackle it with the lessons learned from Watt. But it will not be his main position, as the Steelers see Heyward as someone who can condense many roles.

“Well, he would always find the soft spot,” Heyward said. “You know, he had a good feel for working with his linemen up the field. If somebody is tight or taking the higher guy, just something experience teaches you.”

Of course, Heyward will also be a core part of their special teams. So, the roles that Heyward can condense into his skill set are plentiful and a key part of why the Steelers like the second-year do-it-all tight end. Take it from Heyward, though; it is rare to find a guy who can do all he does.

In listing out the positions as I did earlier, there is even more that Heyward can bring to the table. As a tight end with fantastic hands but the build of a running back, Heyward is the perfect wingback for jet sweeps in Matt Canada’s system. Canada intended to use Heyward in that role last year, and Heyward clinched Pittsburgh’s Christmas Eve win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

A modern fullback does a little bit of everything. They can run the ball, put their hand in the dirt like a traditional fullback, split out for passes, and, the critical last piece, work at special teams. Heyward does all of those things, and the Steelers have something unique to work with in their offense.

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