LATROBE, Pa. – It's the time of year when you hear young players talk about fighting for roster spots, trying to prove to their coaches and teammates that they deserve a spot on that 53-man roster when all is said and done.
It's not what you normally hear from a nine-year veteran, especially one listed as the starting receiver opposite Antonio Brown on the team's initial preseason depth chart.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, though, takes nothing for granted. Every practice, every play, he is out there proving that he belongs.
"I always feel like I am on a one-year deal," said Heyward-Bey. "I always feel like I have to prove not only to the coaching staff, but my teammates that I have a spot on the team. Whether that's playing receiver or doing more on special teams. I never feel like anything is guaranteed. That has always helped in my process."
The Steelers were already loaded at wide receiver, and added even more talent this offseason with the addition of Justin Hunter and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. Add on to that the eventual return of Martavis Bryant from suspension and the talent is through the roof.
"If we didn't add guys, if guys hadn't come back from suspension, I would still feel the same way," said Heyward-Bey. "You have to have the same mentality. I have to prove myself to make the team.
"The talent and mix of guys, everybody has played except for JuJu. That makes it even more competitive. Everybody has had playing time. They have been in big moments. They had to make big plays in big games. It's going to be interesting down to the stretch. Everybody is making plays. Everybody is paying attention to details. They understand that these preseason games are going to be big for everybody. You have to make plays and be accountable."
Heyward-Bey, a former first-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, has been Mr. Dependable since he signed with the Steelers in 2014, making contributions not just to the offense, but on special teams as well. He doesn't get the attention players like Brown do, and he is fine with that.
"I don't mind being that guy," said Heyward-Bey. "I have had those moments in my career, being asked all the questions, being the starter. I think it's good for the younger guys to make their mark, get asked the questions. I can take a backseat, do my job, and when my number is called step up to the occasion. I don't mind that.
"I stay focused on what I have to do. You can't harp on the reps you are or aren't getting. When the ball comes your way you have to make plays. You have to know what you are doing. Everything will speak for itself at the end. The coaches and personnel staff will make their decisions and take it from there. I try to worry about what I am trying to do and make the team myself."