Nov 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
A few Steelers came into their own during the 2013 season. If that success continues, they would be seen as some of the best at their positions.
Drafted in the first round in back-to-back years, Cameron Heyward and David DeCastro look to be the future in the trenches. There were some games in which these two looked downright dominant. Both players have good size and athleticism as well as the football IQ and pedigree to be the lynch pins of the offense and defense.
Heyward took a couple of years on the sidelines and in limited action to come into his own, but he played behind Steeler legend Brett Keisel and the unspectacular, but consistent Ziggy Hood. However, after developing and grasping the defensive concepts, Heyward wrested the starting job from Hood in early 2013 and never looked back.
In one particularly memorable performance, a week 14 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Heyward was all over the field. The high-motor defensive end led the Steelers with 10 tackles and added a sack, pass defense, QB hit, and tackle for a loss. That is a lot of activity for a defensive end in a three-man front.
Although the Steelers went on to lose an exciting and close game, it was clear that Heyward had the chance to be a disruptive force that opposing offenses would have to worry about for years to come.
While some speculate that Keisel might be resigned before the start of the 2014 season, I believe the leader of this defensive front is in place. Heyward not only proved himself to be a physical and indefatigable force on the defensive line, he is also a vocal player and a motivator. He should be a huge asset when it comes to grooming rookies Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers, and Josh Mauro as well as easing in free agent addition Cam Thomas.
The defensive line is in good hands.
On the other side of the trenches another big man looks to buttress the future of the Steelers’ road graders. David DeCastro was the best lineman on the Steelers last year and should continue to improve. Add in that DeCastro will be further removed from his 2012 knee injury, the addition of Hall of Fame line coach Mike Munchak, and the return of Maurkice Pouncey and the Steelers look like they might just have something brewing along the offensive line.
DeCastro compliments his size and athleticism with great intelligence. The former Stanford Cardinal understands the game and his duties and will benefit from the tutelage of another student of the game, Mike Munchak.
While DeCastro is not a vocal leader like Heyward, he can play with a mean streak and leads by example. Ramon Foster is the real leader of the offensive line, but DeCastro is the all star.
Both of these players are set up for continued success. Heyward is a big reason that Ryan Shazier could have a chance to shine in his rookie year. If the rest of the line can hold up, then the playmakers at the next level will be all over the field. That means more turnovers and more wins. DeCastro is a special player that can shine in the pass attack and running attack and really get after people when running the no huddle. He’ll give Ben Roethlisberger a sense of security and Le’Veon Bell a body to run behind.
Back when the Steelers had Aaron Smith lined up at defensive end and Alan Faneca anchored at left guard, there weren’t many question marks. These guys were mean and they were disruptive. Heyward and DeCastro have a chance to be that same kind of duo along the opposing lines.
A football team is built in the trenches and these two both have Pro Bowl and All Pro potential. I am excited to watch this pair play in 2014 and beyond.