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Connor Heyward understands he has to earn his role in the Steelers offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers tight end knows his last name isn’t going to be what gets him more playing time.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL Draft class was filled with players who had a role on the team last season. For some, like 7th Round pick Mark Robinson, their role was as nothing more than depth and special teams. Some, like Kenny Pickett and George Pickens, their roles became instrumental in the turnaround the team experienced at the midway point of the season.

For a player like Connor Heyward, a 6th Round draft pick, the role he carved for himself came from hard work and dedication.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be handed to me,” Heyward told the Steelers official website of his rookie season. “Everything had to be earned. I am going to continue to go out there and do my job. If it’s one snap or 30 snaps, do it to the best of my ability.”

The one thing Heyward has in his favor is the ability to do a lot of things. Heyward can be a genuine tight end, H-back and even a fullback if called upon. This isn’t necessarily a “jack of all trades, master of none” situation, but more a “the more you can do” scenario.

“I feel like I have been used in a lot of different ways. As the season went on, it was more and more. I understand that as a rookie they didn’t want to throw too much at me. As the season went on, they gave me more and more. Hopefully next year it continues to be that way. The more the better.”

When it comes to reflection, Heyward understands he can’t dwell on 2022. Sure, you learn from it, but the focus has to be on the future, and being the best player possible in 2023.

“You want to reflect on year one, but you want to look forward to year two and not look back on year one,” said Heyward. “Get the trust of the quarterbacks. Get the trust of everybody. Continue to work in the offseason. Get everybody on the same page. Continue to work before we come back for camp. I think that will help get us on the same page faster and help us win games sooner.”

As Heyward turns his attention to next season, there are several areas of his game he is trying to improve upon. Strength, while not losing speed, is among the top of the list.

“There is never a point in your game where everything is at its best,” said Heyward. “I always feel like I can get better at something. Trying to get stronger, trying to get faster. Staying in the playbook. Always staying up to date on everything, staying ahead of stuff.

“This will be the first time I have had a good break coming from college to the whole process to this point.”

It is well-documented how difficult it is for rookies who go from their college teams straight to NFL Draft preparation and never get a break if they are lucky enough to be drafted. The hope is Heyward will be able to learn from last year, and be ready to take on a larger role in 2023. If the team chooses to let Zach Gentry walk via free agency, Heyward could be the TE2 on the roster behind Pat Freiermuth. Hopefully he’s ready for such a promotion.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for NFL free agency and the 2023 NFL draft this offseason.