The Pittsburgh Steelers last week elected to exercise defensive end Cameron Heyward’s fifth-year option. This allows the team to keep Heyward through 2015.
Heyward was drafted 31st overall by the Steelers back in the 2011 draft. The move to keep the 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive lineman comes after a breakout season. Heyward started his career as a backup but after last season he’s beginning to show signs of truly being a first-round draft pick.
Last season Heyward recorded a career-high 59 tackles, along with a career-high 5 sacks on the year. Heyward is a young player on an old defense. Keeping him around allows the team to maintain youth while holding on to a player with a bright future.
Heyward was a key player last season and will step into an even bigger role this season as veteran Brett Keisel could possibly be let go. Kiesel is a veteran, meaning he’s old. Although the veteran had some shining moments last season, his play is nowhere near what it used to be and it never will be.
Heyward established himself as one of the featured members of the defensive line. The Steelers’ defensive line is still in need of depth and it’s one area of emphasis in this year’s draft. Keeping Heyward is a smart move should he be able to continue his success of last season.
The Steelers’ defense will be a focal point this season. As a whole, the unit is coming off a season that doesn’t meet Pittsburgh standards. The age has caught up to the Steelers’ defense and while moves have been made during free agency there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Heyward will be expected to perform at a high-level and by optioning to exercise his fifth-year option the Steelers appear to have confidence in his ability to do so.
With any player, there’s no guarantee Heyward will continue his success but this upcoming season is perfect timing for the the first-rounder to help the Steelers’ defense climb back to the top. A younger defense is forming and if pieces like Heyward can keep the positive play coming then we may see a defense that was absent a season ago.