LATROBE, Pa. – It was the final padded practice of their 2022 training camp at Saint Vincent College, and therefore the final time the Steelers would compete in the drill known as 7-Shots on this particular patch of grass. And the third snap was a heart-stopper.
Jaylen Warren took a handoff from Mitch Trubisky and burst up the middle and into the end zone for a touchdown. What was most memorable about the play, however, is that it ended with Cam Heyward injured.
Heyward stayed on the ground and then was helped up and received minor assistance as he limped to the sideline. Heyward took a seat on the bench, and he didn't have to wait very long for trainer John Norwig to find his way over there. Norwig removed Heyward's left shoe and examined the foot, and then an ice bag was taped to the foot, and Heyward lifted and extended his leg and rested his foot on the seat of the bench. He did not look amused.
With nothing else happening with Heyward or around Heyward, it seemed like an opportune time to consult a calendar. Yes indeed, the opener against the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 11 is 24 days away.
Meanwhile, practice carried on.
The potentially catastrophic 7-Shots drill was scored, 2-1, in favor of the defense at the time Heyward began his limp off the field, and on the next play, Trubisky completed a slant pass to Pat Freiermuth to tie things up, 2-2.
On came Kenny Pickett at quarterback, and on his first play, his pass for Anthony McFarland Jr. was low and incomplete. Defense, 3-2. On the next snap, Pickett completed a pass to Miles Boykin for the touchdown. Tied again, 3-3.
• Back on the sideline, the ice bag had been removed, and Heyward was in the process of putting his sock and shoe back on. After trying to walk a bit, he returned to the bench and sat down again. He still did not look amused.
• Back to the action … For the final snap of &-Shots, Mason Rudolph was the quarterback and he threw a perfect pass to Tyler Snead in the end zone to give the offense another score and a win in the drill, 4-3.
For anyone thinking at this point that too much drama is being attached to Heyward's situation, it should be understood that he easily is one of the three most important players on the 85-man roster, and whatever the impact of that single snap in 7-Shots might have on his health – no big deal-to-disastrous – is more significant than any other event that occurred during this final practice of training camp.
At 3:19 p.m., Heyward gets into a Toro with assistant athletic trainer Sonia Rueff behind the wheel, and he is transported up to the building that houses the team's locker rooms and training room during its stay on campus.
Down on the field, Trubisky threw a pretty rainbow to Chase Claypool, who made a slight adjustment on the ball before making the catch in stride and continuing untouched to the opposite end zone. On the next play, it was the same thing – only Trubisky's pass went to Diontae Johnson and the pattern he ran was a little more to the inside. But the outcome was identical.
In the next period, a play began with a fake up the middle and a quick pitch to the outside to Mataeo Durant, but Cam Sutton and Genard Avery came up quickly to shut down the play before it really had a chance to get going.
A Mason Rudolph pass was high and a bit behind Cody White, but he remedied the situation with a nifty one-handed grab.
Some repetitions later, Pickett had Gunner Olszewski running free through the secondary, but when Pickett's pass entered that neighborhood, Tre Norwood had gotten close enough to get a hand up and knock the ball away.
• Back to the drama. Less than 30 minutes after Heyward had boarded the Toro, he was back on the sideline for the rest of practice. No brace. No boot. Nothing visible on the foot area except a sock and a shoe. He was standing with his defensive teammates watching the action on the field when Coach Mike Tomlin ambled by and said something. Tomlin had a smile on his face as he walked past, and so did the players on either side of Heyward. If Heyward was remotely amused, he was hiding it well.
Practice soon concluded, and the players gathered around Tomlin in the center of the field for a final message from him. Soon afterward, practice was officially over when Heyward gathered the team around him and "broke it down."
Heyward must have said something clever and/or humorous, because even he looked somewhat amused now that the day's practice officially was over.