In anticipation of a challenging face-off against the Tennessee Titans and their formidable running back, Derrick Henry, the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to welcome back a vital leader and linchpin of their defensive unit.
On Wednesday, the team made the pivotal move to activate defensive tackle Cameron Heyward onto their 53-man roster, lifting him from the injured reserve list. In a promising development, Heyward was not assigned an injury designation for the Thursday night clash, affirming his readiness to actively participate in the game against the Titans.
Heyward had been sidelined since sustaining a groin injury during the opening week’s defeat against the San Francisco 49ers. Following the injury in September, the 34-year-old underwent surgery with an estimated recovery timeline of approximately eight weeks. Impressively, Heyward’s return materialized a week ahead of schedule, marking his comeback after a seven-week post-surgery period.
Speaking about his recovery, Heyward expressed confidence in the rehabilitation process, stating, “I trust what they’re doing, and I know my body, and I know I’m up there in age, but I feel like I progressed pretty well.”
The Steelers initiated Heyward’s 21-day practice window on October 26, a cautious approach that the defensive tackle embraced. “I’m not rushing the process,” he emphasized after his first practice, recognizing the importance of gradually rebuilding his strength and familiarity with the game. “The healing, it’s taking effect, but I got to get reps under my belt. I’ve got to get more comfortable in what I’m doing. Trust myself, trust my body.”
Heyward’s absence had taken a toll on the Steelers’ run defense, resulting in inconsistent performance. Although they managed to limit Jaguars running back Travis Etienne to a mere 3.3 yards per carry, their overall run defense allowed an average of 4.6 yards per carry, ranking among the bottom 10 in the league.
The Titans, on the other hand, maintain a 4.5-yard-per-carry average despite having amassed 811 rushing yards. Derrick Henry, in particular, ranks fifth in the NFL with 526 rushing yards. Heyward’s return is expected to have a significant impact, with teammate T.J. Watt recognizing his invaluable contribution: “He’s a difference-maker. He really is. He’s been doing it for a long time. A guy that’s played in this matchup more than a few times himself, and anytime you can plug in a player like him, it’s going to make a difference, no matter what.”
Reflecting on the origin of his injury, Heyward recalled the moment he realized its severity. Attempting to sack quarterback Brock Purdy in the first half of the Week 1 encounter, he endured an uncomfortable fall on his legs, resulting in a significant injury to his adductor. He was already contending with a core muscle injury, and the combination of these factors made it impossible for him to continue playing. Heyward acknowledged the inherent risks in the game, stating, “I’m not running away from it.”