Steelers notebook: Defensive end Heyward continues improvement, earns first start Sunday

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Cameron Heyward, the 31st overall selection in the 2011 draft, will make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Jets. He played in a reserve role behind Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel the past two seasons, but had been pushing Hood since training camp.

For Heyward, the adjustment to the NFL was slow. It wasn't until the end of 2012 until he finally became comfortable in the defense.

"Unfortunately, we had some injuries in the last couple of games," Heyward said. "I really started to feel comfortable and started to trust what I was seeing. The game started to slow down."

Heyward also said he approached the offseason in a different manner in hopes of earning a bigger role.

"I would say there was a lot of improvement all over," he said. "Right after last year, I was here working out, getting in the film room and making sure I was ready, making sure I could play both sides, making sure I capitalized on every opportunity I had."

One of the reasons Heyward was elevated to starting status was his pass-rushing ability. He has been credited with seven quarterback hurries in 115 snaps. Hood had six hurries in 187 snaps.

The Steelers are last in the NFL with four sacks, and Keisel is the only defensive lineman to record a sack.

"I'm getting pressures, but my thing is I'm not happy with pressures," Heyward said. "I'm here to get sacks and tackles for losses and put the [opposing offense] in some bad situations."

Sylvester returns

The Steelers released linebacker Kion Wilson and resigned Stevenson Sylvester, who was among the team's first cuts in training camp. Sylvester, who played with the Steelers from 2010-12, never left town after being released. He has a residence in the area, and, rather than return home to Las Vegas, he worked out at a local gym and waited for his next opportunity.

Sylvester was a fifth-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2010 and played mostly in a reserve role for three seasons. He was injured in the first preseason game against the New York Giants and was released when the Steelers made their initial cuts from 90 players to 75.

"It was a surprise, but this is a business," Sylvester said. "I was on a one-year contract, so maybe I should have had that expectation. But there was nothing I could do about it at the time. It wasn't like I could fight for it when I was injured. I couldn't run. I didn't have the ability to change my fate. I kind of expected it. They were getting ready for the season and they didn't know where I was at."

Sylvester said he hopes to jump right in and this week and play special teams, where he made his mark over his first three NFL seasons.

"I would hope so," he said. "That's always my expectation. We'll see. I'm working with [special- teams coach] Danny Smith to try to get a role on this team."

Wilson, who made the 53-man roster out of training camp after being out of football in 2012, started against Cincinnati and Chicago after Larry Foote was injured in the opener, but he had been surpassed on the depth chart for the Minnesota game by rookie sixth-rounder Vince Williams.

Colon carries a chip

Former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon was released over the offseason and signed with the New York Jets. He is the starting right guard and will face his old teammates Sunday for the first tim.

Colon said he has no hard feelings toward the Steelers.

"I referenced something earlier that I carry a big chip on my shoulder, only because I was coming off my third [injured reserve]," Colon said. "I was kind of labeled a limit, like I was kind of done with. That [ticked] me off. I know how hard I trained in the offseason. I know how much work I put in to be the best I can be. I never want anyone to put me in a box."

Injury updates

Starting left guard Ramon Foster, working his way back from a pectoral injury, went through a full practice and said his status will be determined later this week: "I feel fine right now, but it's one of those things that's day-to-day," he said. "I have to see how it responds [today] and we'll judge it from there. It's one of those things I have to take it serious. I'm going to try go as much as I can, but I have to hold myself back in a situation like this. It's a muscle that's pretty sensitive I guess."... Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (finger) also went through a full practice. ... Defensive back Damon Cromartie-Smith (hip) was limited and receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) did not practice. Wheaton already has been ruled out against the Jets.

Steelers

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published October 9, 2013 9:30 PM


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