After putting on nearly 20 pounds last season, former No. 1 draft pick Cam Heyward has gone back to his college playing weight so he can move better and be a more consistent contributor in the Steelers defense.
And the time for him to do so is now.
Or so says the player he can't move out at defensive right end -- Brett Keisel.
"We always say the third year is the year where everything should start to come together," Keisel said. "He's there. It's just doing it. He can do it."
Heyward has done little in two seasons. A No. 1 draft choice in 2011, he and Ziggy Hood, another No. 1 pick, were going to be the future of the team's aging defensive line. Hood has worked himself into a serviceable and dependable starter on the left side, having never missed a game in four years.
Heyward has appeared in all 32 games in two seasons, but he has struggled with his technique and assignments. The Steelers are waiting for him to have some type of impact.
"I want to just be more consistent, have the coaches have a lot of trust in me and, when I'm out there, make sure my presence is felt, " Heyward said Thursday after the morning practice.
Heyward came to training camp at 295 pounds, his weight from his college days at Ohio State. That is nearly 20 pounds less than last year when he beefed up to 315 pounds because he thought he had to get bigger and stronger to play in the NFL.
"I just think it can help moving down the line and staying with my technique," Heyward said. "You have to be able to move down the line and be able to move laterally. And, on the pass rush, it will help out a lot. I'll be able to get off the ball a lot quicker. It's not like I lost any of my muscle. I definitely kept hitting the weights and just got in better shape."
Heyward said that will help him become more consistent.
"Just take that next step," said Keisel, who enters his 12th season and will be 35 in September. "Our style of defense is all about consistency -- going out and playing consistent, week in and week out. And, as a young guy, sometimes that's hard to do.
"Cam's been here three years. He knows the defense now. It's just making that next step of being a very consistent, day-in, day-out player."
Feeling right at home
Bruce Gradkowski is with his fifth NFL team in eight years, so adjusting to a new offense and new teammates is certainly nothing new for this former Seton-LaSalle High School quarterback.
Especially when the new team is the one he has faced several times in stints with the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders.
"I respect all those guys on defense because I played against them," Gradkowski said. "I even told Coach [Dick] LeBeau I'm glad I'm on this side of the fence now with him."
Gradkowski was brought in to be the No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers parted with veterans Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich after the 2012 season.
The Steelers drafted Oklahoma's record-setting quarterback, Landry Jones, in the fourth round, but he has a long way to go before he is ready to play. Gradkowski has been running solely with the second team and will remain there indefinitely.
"I've been used to being on different teams," Gradkowski said. "Coming here, especially being from here, has definitely been easier. And coming here, playing against these guys, knowing these guys, especially the coaches and organization, it's a great situation."
Worilds injures big toe
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds injured his big toe in the afternoon practice and was experiencing "minor discomfort," coach Mike Tomlin said. The extent of the injury was not known.
Also, rookie free-agent guard Nik Embernate of San Diego State was carted from the field with what appears to be "a significant knee injury," Tomlin said.
More tackling than usual
For the second consecutive day, Tomlin had the players tackling in a team drill -- something they rarely do other than in a goal-line drill.
Speaking of the goal-line drill, Tomlin said he will not conduct one tonight in a practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. The practice was moved from Latrobe's Memorial Stadium because of poor grass conditions there. Practice begins at 5:25 p.m., and admission is free.
The Westmoreland County Food bank will conduct a food drive before practice.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @gerrydulac.