PITTSBURGH — When Steelers rookie Connor Heyward makes a mistake during an OTA practice session, everyone notices.
That’s usually the case for rookies that are under the microscope during the learning phase of the offseason program, but it’s especially true because Heyward’s big brother has no problem with pointing out those mistakes.
So when Connor Heyward couldn’t catch up to a pass on Thursday, it wasn’t a coach or even another tight end making the verbal correction. It was his big brother Cam, shouting, “Run to the damn ball!”
The special attention, and verbal correction, is something that the youngest Heyward is pretty used to.
“He heckles me outside the football field, too,” Connor Heyward said after Thursday’s practice. “On the field, it’s funny. I just kind of ignore him. He’s just trying to get underneath my skin and make me thick-skinned, because guys are going to be out there talking trash.”
In some ways, his brother’s verbal harassment is one of the more familiar aspects of the transition to NFL football. With a new offense, in a new town with new coaches, it’s a piece of home away from home.
“It just feels like we’re in the driveway playing pickup basketball or in the back yard playing football, just hanging out,” Connor Heyward said.
As far as the validity of Cam Heyward’s criticism, that’s up for determination. Is a defensive tackle really qualified to evaluate tight end performance?
“No,” Connor answered quickly.
“Hell yeah, I am!” Cam responded from his adjacent locker.
Ahh, brotherly love.
DBs WANT PIECE OF PASS-RUSH PIE
The Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL with 55 quarterback sacks in the 2021 season, the third consecutive year the team paced the league in abusing passers.
But the team’s front seven dominates the discussion when it comes to where those sacks come from. Strong safety Terrell Edmunds had one sack in 2021, the only Steelers sack of 55 to not come by way of a linebacker or defensive lineman.
That might change this year with former defensive backs coach Teryl Austin moving to defensive coordinator and Brian Flores, known for exotic blitzes and hybrid linebacker-safety roles, taking his place as the senior defensive assistant.
“I hope that’s going to include me,” slot corner Arthur Maulet said earlier this week. “That’s my thing. I love to blitz. Whatever I can do to help the team. Brian Flores is a great coach, obviously, and he does have exotic blitzes, so hopefully I can get in on a couple.”
On Thursday, as if on cue, the defensive backs did a pass-rushing drill with linebackers coaches Jerry Olsavsky and Denzel Martin. It was a hit with the defensive backs.
“We definitely want to get that on the back end,” safety Tre Norwood said. “Just a couple sacks in there. As we all know around the league, our front is crazy. On the back end, we want to try to chip into that, as well and help out in the little amounts we get to be a part of that.”
OL LINEUP PORTENDS BATTLE
When the Steelers offensive line goes through their pre-stretching routine, they line up by ranks, left tackle to right tackle, first team ahead of second team, so on and so forth. Except for the first-team left guard spot, where both Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green stood on Thursday.
Dotson is the incumbent starter at the position, returning from an injury-plagued 2021 season that was supposed to be his first as a full-time starter. Green has seemingly moved from center to guard after a tough rookie season at center. Free agent Mason Cole has been manning the top center spot, with J.C. Hassenauer behind him and James Daniels and John Leglue in the top two ranks at right guard.
The portions can obviously change, with all of the individuals having played at least two of the interior offensive line positions, and most of them three. But it does seems that the Steelers have set up Dotson and Green for a starting position battle at left guard moving forward.