For Isaiahh Loudermilk, the 2021 season was more than he expected.
With injuries hitting the defensive line, in particular to Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, younger players like Loudermilk were asked to step up. And he did what was asked.
Loudermilk, the team's fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, played in 15 games last season with two starts. He finished the year with 23 tackles, 16 of them solo hits, three passes defensed and a sack.
"Coming in, I wasn't sure really what to expect, if I was going to get some playing time, it wouldn't be a whole lot," said Loudermilk. "Everything kind of happened, injuries and stuff like that, so I kind of got thrown out there. I was prepared for pretty much anything. I wouldn't say I was really expecting to get as much as I did, but I'm glad I did. I feel like I grew a lot as a player actually being able to go out there and play."
Loudermilk said some areas where he developed this year were in his hand placement, footwork, working on the little things. But there is plenty to do this offseason before he returns for Year 2.
"I'd say one big thing for me is pass rush," said Loudermilk. "I feel pretty solid against the run, but there were just some things with my pass rush I really want to hone in on a little bit more because I definitely feel like I was a little bit behind on that. But that's definitely one thing this offseason that I'm planning on working on."
When you come into a veteran group like Loudermilk did on the Steelers defensive line, one of the most important things is finding someone who can be the player you can lean on, the one you can learn from, someone who can be your mentor.
It should come as no surprise that Loudermilk found that player in defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.
Heyward is the defensive team captain, a role he takes to heart, and is always willing to help out younger players, especially ones like Loudermilk who has such a strong willingness to learn.
"He pretty much showed me anything he could," said Loudermilk. "Anytime we were doing drills, we would work together. He would give me little pointers, hand placement and stuff like that. Being able to come in and have a mentor like that helped me a ton. I think that's one of the big reasons why I felt like I made a pretty big jump from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Just week in and week out taking little things from him. Watching how he does things and feeding off him. I couldn't ask for a better mentor than Cam."