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Steelers Cameron Heyward shows young leadership in helping Alameda Ta'amu

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Alameda Ta'amu knows his career was almost cut short last year with his off-field mistakes. He also knows that he needs to improve if he's going to ever be remembered for anything other than a wasted fourth round 2012 draft pick for Pittsburgh. Cameron Heyward is helping him see his mission through.

Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

Steelers defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu pretty much could have been nicknamed "can't get right" for his actions last year. Suffering from early injury, he also was involved in off-the-field issues on the south side bar scene of Pittsburgh which did not help his standing with the team.

Chris Rainey at least had proven his worth as a rookie with his returning skills and great football speed, but he was released. Ta'amu could easily see that he needed to shape up his act, and his football skills, if he wanted a successful career in the NFL.

Enter Cameron Heyward.

Although he only has a year's experience ahead of Ta'amu and he's not first on the Steelers depth chart at defensive end, he's one of the pieces of a soon-to-be future puzzle for the Steelers defensive line. The former 2011 first round draft pick took this offseason to show up at Ta'amu's door, help show him how to improve his physical condition and be a friend within the defense.

Cameron Heyward emphasizes that he just wants to help, and sometimes that just takes a peer being straightforward with Ta'amu. Since Heyward has begun to work with Ta'amu, the second year tackle has shed twenty pounds and is showing improvement on the field. Although several mistakes were seen at different points in Ta'amu's performance on Saturday, he did record two tackles and Heyward says he saw improvement in his technique from a year ago.

What could be the highlight of this story is how Ta'amu was unsatisfied with his performance and wants to train harder to be better next time; a "better late than never" story of sorts.

But an even better sign was how Cameron Heyward, who has yet to earn a starting spot on the Steelers' defensive front, has been there to help Ta'amu. Heyward is entering his 3rd season in 2012. That means he is soon approaching the time when he will be called upon to permanently replace long-time Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. But until then Heyward must improve in both his skills on the field, and his position in the locker room chemistry of the Steelers.

If anything, taking a second year player under his wing is a good sign. Heyward still has to work his way up the depth chart with Ziggy Hood starting opposite of Keisel and especially after Al Woods showed an impressive performance Saturday night. But being a leader on any team sometimes means rising to be the example for a teammate; and that's exactly Heyward is doing with Ta'amu.

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