When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Cameron Heyward in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft they had every intention of turning him into an eventual replacement for Brett Keisel and starter. In 2013, Heyward may see his name enter the starting line-up depending on how he performs during training camp and the pre-season.
However, it is unlikely that Heyward will be starting in place of Keisel as was previously expected. Instead, Heyward, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will have a chance to replace Ziggy Hood in the starting line-up this year. Bouchette said in his weekly chat on Tuesday that he has been told Heyward is better than Hood and will get the chance to unseat him in 2013.
Last year Heyward only played on twenty-seven percent of the Steelers defensive snaps. Keisel played on eighty-seven percent of snaps and Hood played on eighty-two percent of the defensive plays. Based on snap counts Heyward would project to have more sacks and tackles than Hood if given the same number of plays.
During the 2012 season Hood recorded a tackle once every 19 plays on defense. Heyward, on the other hand, recorded a tackle once every 13 plays and he also recorded a sack every 175 plays, which is almost 100 snaps less than it took Hood to record one quarterback take-down.
Hood has played four seasons with the Steelers at this point and is yet to force a turnover. Heyward, however, has recorded one forced fumble in less total defensive snaps than Hood played last year alone. That, in itself, is just one of the reasons that Hood has become labelled as a bust for the Steelers after he, like Heyward, was drafted in the first round.
Many are also ready to add Heyward to that list, but Heyward not cracking the starting line-up at this point has more to do with Keisel being in front of him than his inabilities as an NFL player. It also looks, according the Bouchette’s comments, like the Steelers are ready to get him into the starting line-up even if that means benching Hood to do so.
Following the 2013 NFL Draft Steelers’ linebackers coach Keith Butler said the following: ”Ziggy Hood’s got some technical stuff that he’s gotta work on, John’s (Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell) gotta work on, and John knows about that so we’re going to try to get those things clarified and worked out.”
If Hood doesn’t get those things worked out and come into training camp much better than he has been so far he could find himself riding the bench in 2013. Keisel only has one year left on his contract and Heyward and Hood will likely be the starting defensive ends in 2014, but next season it’s likely only one will crack the starting line-up and right now Heyward may be the more likely option.