Improving D-line on Heyward's agenda

Cam Heyward had let it be known once the 2015 season ended that he wouldn't be opposed to the Steelers adding depth along the defensive line.

With the NFL Draft less than a month away, Heyward's opinion hasn't changed.

"We talked a lot about adding depth at that position because we don't want to get to a point in the playoffs where we're gassed," he said. "I think we need to add depth but we need other guys to step up."

That's particularly the case at nose tackle, where starter Steve McLendon has moved on to the New York Jets via free agency and second-year pro Vince Williams is positioned to potentially take over.

Heyward has watched such a transition previously, from Casey Hampton to McLendon.

Now, the (nose) guard is changing again.

"Steve was Steve, Casey was Casey and Dan has to be Dan, be more consistent, be a better all-around player and establish what he's good at," Heyward observed. "We're all going to be pushing for Dan because he's going to be a vital part of our defense this year."

Heyward made it clear in an interview with Missi Matthews of that he's all for improvement from within as well as help from outside sources.

That goes for a young player still working to establish himself such as McCullers, and for a young player whose second season with the team had the look and feel of a breakthrough season, as Stephon Tuitt's second season did.

"I think he took a big step from his rookie year," Heyward said. "He wanted to improve and he did. I extend the same challenge to him again.

"He has a big upside. He has so much room to improve and he's only going to continue to get better.

Stephon puts in a lot of work. If he continues to do it he's going to be one of the top ends in the league."

The Steelers' defense made perceptible strides in 2015, individually and collectively.

More must be made, Heyward maintained.

"I think we need to take some more steps in the run game, stopping it," he said. "And then in the passing game getting off (of the field) on third downs."

No wonder Heyward is already looking ahead to the draft in late April and to the beginning of OTAs in late May.

"This team is going to be completely different," he said. "It's going to be different from OTAs to training camp to the start of the regular season. But when we do start OTAs we'll have at least a good core group of the guys there.

"It's the first step."

The last steps in 2015 had been taken in Denver in the second round of the playoffs.

"Hopefully, it's just a building block," Heyward said. "We understand that we didn't get the job done. We played the eventual Super Bowl champions. We can either use that as a positive or a negative.

"You can say there are things we could have worked on to get to the next level or you can just say it's a loss, move on from there. Hopefully, it's a teaching tool."

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