Darrius Heyward-Bey had only three receptions for 33 yards last year, not necessarily numbers that would turn a quarterback's head. But it's about more than numbers in Heyward-Bey's case. It's about his approach, his work ethic, and what he brings overall to the team.
Heyward-Bey, a first-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2009, signed with the Steelers in 2014 with the hopes of contributing to the passing game, but was used primarily on special teams. The way he dealt with that impressed Ben Roethlisberger.
"He works his butt off every day," said Roethlisberger. "He never complains. He never gripes. He goes about his job, and it's grimy, running down on special teams, punts, kickoffs. He's a former first-rounder. He doesn't say 'Woe is me' and worry about 'I used to be this, used to be that.' He does everything he can to coach the young guys and work with me as much as he can."
Now, he will have even more of a chance to work with Roethlisberger. With Martavis Bryant suspended for the first four games of the season, Heyward-Bey will step in as the team's number three receiver. And it's a role Roethlisberger is confident he can handle.
"He is playing with a lot of confidence," said Roethlisberger. "We have confidence in him. He is one of the guys that went down to Georgia with us to work out. We've built that confidence and trust in each other. I think he will step up and we will be just fine."
Gaining that confidence is something that came over time, with Heyward-Bey proving himself with his strong work ethic and the way he stepped up this offseason and through training camp.
"It lets me know and lets everyone else know that it was earned, it wasn't given," said Heyward-Bey. "I think we have a good relationship. I just listen to what he tells me to do. I think that is always a good thing to do. Over time with Ben you have to make him be confident in you. You have to make plays for him. When he tries to trick everybody, you have to make sure you are on top of your game. I feel confident out there and I am glad he is too.
"I have to make plays for him because now it's real, it's game time."
Heyward-Bey said that he didn't know Bryant's suspension was coming, but he always prepares in the event that someone is injured or the like. While he doesn't like seeing anything negative happen for a teammate, he is looking forward to increased opportunities.
"We play this game to make big plays," said Heyward-Bey. "I have worked hard enough and I hope I go out there and execute my plays."