“I knew coming into the situation here I was going to have to show the coaching staff and the GM some different things,” Heyward-Bey said. “I think I’ve done a good job of that so far. Hopefully, I do it for another week.
Heyward-Bey, 27, arrived in Pittsburgh with 169 career catches, 2,380 receiving yards (14.1 per reception) and 12 receiving touchdowns on his NFL resume after four years with the Raiders (2009-12) and one with the Indianapolis Colts (2013).
He had also played “a game and a half,” on special teams in his entire football career (last season in Indianapolis).
“I filled in at Kansas City, made a minus-6 tackle on (Chiefs’ returner Dexter) McCluster,” Heyward-Bey recalled. “I can’t remember anything else after that, I was hyped.”
That special teams tackle of McCluster last Dec. 22 was actually for a 2-yard loss, but the Colts were impressed enough to use Heyward-Bey as a gunner on the punt team again when they hosted the Chiefs in the postseason.
Special teams, apparently, are in his wheelhouse after all.
“I really like some of the things he’s shown us in the kicking game,” Coach Mike Tomlin assessed. “Some things that, quite frankly, I didn’t know he had in terms of his willingness and ability to cover punts, his willingness and ability to block for punt returners.”
In doing so, Heyward-Bey has gotten into the conversation about “defensive backs who are going to be gunners and corners in the kicking game and wideouts in the same discussion,” Tomlin continued. “Often times a lot is written and said or paid attention to about how they perform offensively and defensively. But what they do on special teams is going to be a significant element in determining who sticks and who does not.”
Heyward-Bey is hoping to keep the right people talking after Thursday night’s preseason finale against Carolina.
“I think half of it is effort,” he said of contributing in the kicking game. “The other half is picking up what the coaches want you to do and going out there and doing it.”