It's that time of year when the honors are handed out and that was the case on Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Cameron Heyward and Devin Bush were both honored by the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pro Football Writers of America.
Heyward was named the recipient of the 'The Chief' Award, which was established in honor of Steelers' founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr., and is presented annually to a member of the Steelers' organization that best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media that he embodied.
Heyward is always available in the locker room to talk to the media, always willing to step up no matter what the situation, through good and bad. He never shies away from talking and always gives answers that are insightful and from the heart.
"I am not always the easiest to talk to," said Heyward. "I may not mince words. But when I do talk, I want to make sure I have your attention and I give you everything that I am thinking. With that I try to be respectful to my teammates and y coaches. I understand there are tough questions out there. I don't have all of the answers but I'm going to try to give you the right answer most of the time. If I don't have the right answer I will try to find out later on and revert back to you guys."
This is the second time that Heyward won the award, and it's no surprise. If you want to know who the stabilizing force for the Steelers defense is, the stabilizing force in the locker room, you don't have to look any further than Heyward.
"You see it in how he comes to work every day," said Tyson Alualu of Heyward's impact on the team and his leadership. "A guy who will lead by example, but at the same time be vocal when it is most needed. That says more about him, the way he carries himself and the actions he shows on a day to day basis, not just when the camera is on him. It's when he is in the community, when he is on the field. He is that same person, coming to practice and meetings.
"He is passionate about football and about the people he gets to do it with. When you have a leader like him it brings out the best in everybody around him because you don't want to let him down when you are on the field with him, or serving in the community with him, because of who he is."
He has been a rock for the defense throughout his career, and that has never been on display more than this year when he was part of the glue that kept the team together during a tough start to the season.
It's not just his leadership, though, that has him being a Pro Bowl selection for the second year in a row. It's his dominating play.
Heyward has 80 tackles, eight sacks, five pass defenses, 20 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for a loss, as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"He is our captain. He is the best at what he does," said nose tackle Javon Hargrave. "He is dominating the league. He has been dominating for the last five years, ever since I got here. He is just playing at a high level. He just shows you how to practice, what he does. He beats his players easily in a game. I don't know how he does it. He is just that good.
"Just to have a guy like that, a veteran leader who shows some of us younger guys the right way to do things in this football world. He dominates what he does. He takes care of his body, does the right thing. Me coming from a smaller school he is one of the people who taught me the right way to live my life and go about football."
It takes a special player to come in and be a steady starter as a rookie, and it's obvious that Devin Bush is a special player, which is why he received the "Joe Greene Great Performance Award," given annually to the Steelers top rookie.
Bush, the Steelers No. 1 draft pick this year, the 10th pick overall, has been a starter this season and has made quite the impact on the defense.
"He is a fast, skilled player," said Bud Dupree. "His ability to go sideline to sideline with his speed is impressive. He makes a lot of splash plays for a rookie. He keeps playing better and better. The sky is the limit for Devin."
Bush said the biggest challenge this year wasn't so much the football side of things, but just the adjustment from college football player to professional football player.
"Just the professional life, on and off the field," said Bush. "Everything is different now. This is my job now. This is a high-stake job. This is a demanding job, as well as taking care of things off the field, just with your personal life, trying to balance the two as you are trying to learn the playbook and a whole new system. I think that was the biggest challenge."
"I think I do. Coming in you don't know what to expect. You hear all these stories about you may hit a rookie wall here, you may do this, you may feel this way. But you never know until you go through it. I have a good grasp on it for next year. It will be a lot easier for me."
Bush is second on the team in tackles with 97, has two interceptions, one forced fumble, four fumble recovers, has one sack, nine tackles for a loss, and four pass defenses.
"It's really special when you get a young guy to come in and thrive this early in his career," said Cam Heyward. "I think he gets it. Whether it's picking older guys heads, or staying after meetings, the biggest thing he has done is being a sponge. His career is going to be that he is always in the Pro Bowl because he is going to continue to learn, continue to get a lot better. What a way to start a career as a rookie.
"Communication is always key but listening goes a long way. I think it's a hidden trait that if you really do try at that, and excel at that, you are going to go far in this league."
Earlier this season he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Los Angeles Chargers.
"He has been opportunistic since day zero," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "He continues to be."