Offseason Blog: Vote for Cam

Wednesday, January 11

Vote for Cam: Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is the Steelers nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide. This is the fifth time Heyward has been the Steelers' nominee.

Every NFL team names a Man of the Year nominee, and they are all eligible to be the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide.

Steelers fans can do their part to help Heyward win the WPMOY Charity Challenge by voting for him on Twitter through tweets and re-tweets. Today is the last day to vote.

Simply tweet #WPMOYChallenge and @CamHeyward or #WPMOYChallenge and Heyward to vote for him. You can also re-tweet any tweet with that mentioned in it.

How you finish: The saying goes, it's not how you start but how you finish, and for the Steelers that was the case in 2022.

Yes, they came up short of their postseason goal, but they came a long way and there was continual improvement throughout the year, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

"Tremendously improved," said tight end Zach Gentry. "I mean you see from that bye week break how much better we were. You can attribute that a lot to the young guys growing up – a lot less mental errors, a lot more knowing what you're doing, kind of as a whole and meshing together.

"I think there are big things in store for this organization going forward."

Gentry himself is a player who has come a long way, not just this season but since he arrived with the Steelers as a fifth-round draft pick in 2019.

"Definitely, as a player, as a person, as a professional," said Gentry of his growth. "I came in here as a much scrawnier version of myself. A lot more underdeveloped as a player, so I've just done a lot of growing here. I learned a lot from a lot of the other guys in this locker room. So, like I said, growing on the field and growing off the field as well."

And he hopes that growth continues in black and gold. Gentry is set to become an unrestricted free agent when free agency begins in March and while he said there haven't been any talks yet, he loves where he is.

"I have so much love for this organization and the people who are here, so it's going to be quite the process, quite the journey," said Gentry. "I'm just intrigued to see how it goes, what happens."

Fighting through it: The Steelers went into the 2022 season a young team, and that youth was on display at times early on when they struggled with a 2-6 start. But they quickly matured, become a tight unit that finished the year 9-8. Now, with the season over, change is one thing that is guaranteed, but Alex Highsmith is hoping they can keep the momentum going.

"I think it's so important to carry that momentum to next year," said Highsmith. "We've got a core group of young guys. I love seeing how Kenny [Pickett] and the offense started to gel towards the end of the year. Just seeing his growth and what type of leader he is, I'm excited for him to be our quarterback going into the future. He's such a competitor. I could tell that from training camp what type of competitor he was, and just week by week he kept going and getting better.

"I know that we'll continue to get better overall, and I think us as a defense, we were playing some of our best ball at the end of the year, creating more turnovers and getting more sacks and stuff, so I think we'll be able to build on it next year."

Change is a given: Change is going to happen. It's a given in the NFL. No roster remains the same from year to year, and that will be the case for the 2023 Steelers.

But cornerback Cameron Sutton, who himself is set to become an unrestricted free agent, is hoping the changes are minimal, especially after the defense came up with 20 interceptions in 2022.

"I felt like we were just getting into playing our best ball moving towards the end of the year," said Sutton. "Really getting into that comfortability level of finding out how guys play and see the game, moving around on the field, not in a sense of necessarily always being in the right place at the right time, but different looks, different disguises, having different versatile pieces on the back end, different personnel packages.

"We really kind of created a different identity. Just getting that exposure, especially with the new additions of guys coming in their first year and having a big part of that success as well. And just obviously, our pieces that we've always had, and our foundation, and just building off of that, continuing to be able to find those pieces, continuing to line up against these various offenses you see and matchups you see week in and week out and being able to be successful."

Monday, January 9

Never blinking: The Steelers turnaround this season from a 2-6 start to a 9-8 finish wasn't something that happened in a blink of an eye.

Actually, it was the opposite.

It happened because nobody blinked. And that is because the players following the words of Coach Mike Tomlin, who has said with one of his classic Tomlinisms, 'Sometimes you got to cut your eyelids off when you want to blink.'

"When he says it, it makes you don't want to have any type of fear," said guard Kevin Dotson. "You don't want to blink at anything. You want to be able to go ahead."

Dotson said a big part of their turnaround came at the bye week, when Tomlin shared words with them, words that stuck and gave them a vision of what they were looking to accomplish.

"He is probably top five in speakers I have been around," said Dotson of Tomlin. "When he speaks, his speeches stick with you. He will give you a top tier speech every morning and it will really motivate you, even just for practice.

"It was more like a college heart-to-heart. Our (college) coaches used to do it where they would be 100 percent honest. We're not good. The off week it was, we're not good enough. We're not doing the regular things we need to do. When he was saying it, he wasn't sugar coating anything. I think everybody needed that because we were living in the fantasy of potential. Potential can hinder you. We know what we can be if everything clicks every time, and we were banking on that at the beginning of the year."

Tomlin's exact words weren't shared, but from the talk in the locker room over the month, they were powerful words, words that left an impact.

"It's a day-to-day thing with him," said rookie defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal. "It's always pushing forward, moving forward. It's always positivity. There is nothing that is going to hold you down. It's always going to be positive and transparent."

Linebacker Alex Highsmith said the way the team turned things around is a testament to the type of coach Tomlin is, pushing the players to show their resiliency.

"I think he showed what type of coach he is, how we were able to finish," said Highsmith. "The beginning of the season wasn't how we wanted to start. I am just proud of how this team finished. We were resilient. We just kept fighting. It gave us some momentum going into next season.

"(He told us) never stop believing. We know the type of team that we have. We know as long as we keep fighting, we're going to turn this thing around. We look back and know there are some games we should have won. Those keep us up at night. Those close ones. The Ravens game. A couple of other games. It just comes down to execution."

Wanting to stay: The Steelers locker room will have a different look when the team gathers to start preparation for the 2023, with the addition of players and others leaving.

But on Monday as they cleaned out their lockers and had their final team meeting, the feeling was strong among some of the team's impending free agents that they want to stay put.

"This is home," said Cameron Sutton, who just wrapped his sixth season in black and gold. "This has been home to me since the beginning. A strong foundation. Really solid here. A lot of love for all the aspects here, the city as a whole."

He wasn't alone in declaring his love for the team, for remaining in black and gold. Linebacker Robert Spillane, who has been with the team since 2018, shared the sentiment.

"I love this organization," said Spillane. "I've loved being here from the second I got here. I poured my heart into everything I do here. I love my teammates, I love my coaches, I love the organization. It's been a blessing and I have never taken it for granted. If I am blessed with the opportunity to come back, that is something that would be special."

Dodging a tough injury: Second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth initially thought the worst when he suffered a knee injury and had to be helped off the field in the second half of the Steelers' 28-14 win over the Browns at Acrisure Stadium Sunday.

But the early reports are that Freiermuth's injury was an MCL sprain, not something much more serious. Freiermuth will not require offseason surgery to repair any ligaments in his knee.

Monday, he was walking around – albeit somewhat gingerly – with a smile on his face.

"Yeah, I definitely dodged a bullet and I'm really happy about that," Freiermuth said. "There's still some rehab involved, but it's not as bad as I thought."

Freiermuth finished his second season with the Steelers with 63 receptions for 732 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. That came on the heels of a rookie season in which he had 60 receptions for 497 yards and seven scores.

Freiermuth, a second-round draft pick in 2021, joined former Eagles star Keith Jackson as the only tight ends in NFL history to top 60 receptions in each of their first two seasons. Jackson accomplished that in 1988 and 1989.

"I thought it went good," Freiermuth said of his season. "Obviously, I wish the team had made the playoffs and made a run at the Super Bowl. But I thought we improved offensively throughout the year, and I thought individually, I did that."

-- By Dale Lolley

The highs and lows: Finishing strong took a little of the sting out of missing the postseason, in defensive end Chris Wormley's estimation.

Coming as close as the Steelers did but failing to qualify added to their frustration.

"Obviously, you want to make the playoffs but beating Cleveland, beating Baltimore two weeks ago put us on a high note at the end of the year," Wormley said. "The locker room, talking to some of the guys now, it's not somber, it's not sad. I think it's more (ticked) off that we didn't, we couldn't get it done. You look back, 10-point lead against the Jets early in the season, (the first) Cleveland game we had a chance to win, Patriots game early in the season. Those two or three games there, you just win one of those it's a different story. Miami, you're a sixth seed, seventh seed at worst.

"When you look back it's a lotta shoulda-woulda-coulda, Monday morning quarterback-type stuff."

Wormley missed the season-ending, four-game winning streak due to a knee injury.

But he saw the defense play to the level it had aspired to all along in wins at Carolina, against Las Vegas, at Baltimore and over Cleveland.

There were reasons, Wormley maintained, the defense wasn't able to do that sooner.

"We had a lot of new, moving parts," he said. "I think our offense playing better over the last seven, eight weeks has given us a chance to kind of fly around, have some fun, put teams in passing situations to allow (free safety) Minkah (Fitzpatrick) and the guys like that to snatch the all out of the air. But stopping the run, being committed, kind of that sense of urgency to get it going when it comes to those last two games where we knew we had a shot if we just finished off the season how we knew we could maybe put a little fire under the guys' butts."

Wormley believes the Steelers can achieve a higher level of play sooner on defense next season under the right set of circumstances.

"I think with the guys we have now on the defense, say all 22 of us come back, people that rotate and all that stuff, I think that happens a lot sooner," he said. "But early in the season there's a lot of moving parts, a lot of people trying to figure out, chemistry-wise. You know (defensive tackle) Larry (Ogunjobi) was new, (defensive end) Tyson (Alualu) is coming back from injury, (safety Damontae) Kazee gets hurt, (cornerback) Levi Wallace is new, (inside linebacker) Myles Jack, (inside linebacker) Devin Bush coming off the injury still. So you kind of see it kind of coming a little too late, which is frustrating to see because we know what type of team that we had.

"But it gives us a good platform or a good starting point for next offseason or next season."

-- By Mike Prisuta

Take a look at the best photos from the Week 18 game against the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium

Opponents determined: While the dates and times won't be announced for a few months, the Steelers know who will be on the 2023 regular season schedule, which includes traditional AFC North opponents.

This year the AFC North teams will face the AFC South and the NFC West in games at home and on the road. In addition, there will be three games based on finish within divisions, with the AFC North teams facing teams from the AFC East and NFC North at home and the AFC West on the road.

With 17 games on the schedule, the Steelers will have an additional home game this year, with the NFL rotating the 17th game on a home/away basis each year.

At home the Steelers will play the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns in the North, in addition to the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans.

On the road the team will face Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland, as well as the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks.

Interested in ticket information for the 2023 season? Learn more here: https://www.steelers.com/tickets/.

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