When a football player who once was clocked in the low 4.2s in the 40-yard dash injures his foot, it is serious.
That was the case for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey in 2016 when he injured his foot in Week 9 of the regular season. Although Heyward-Bey did return to the team, he was visibly not the same player as fans of the black and gold have seen on occasion.
The injury was one thing, but throw in the fact the team has not only welcomed back Martavis Bryant, but drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and suddenly the numbers game at the wide receiver position becomes evident.
What is Heyward-Bey going to do to ensure he still has a spot on the 53-man roster when the dust settles? Go back to his roots, and those roots would be track and field to work on his speed.
"I wanted to prove not only to the coaches but to myself that I can play with these younger guys," Heyward-Bey told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.
Heyward-Bey, who once clocked in the low-4.2s, reconvened with his track coach from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Md., this offseason. He's always been naturally fast, but being idle for two months because of injuries forced him to freshen his mechanics.
As a result, Heyward-Bey is pushing himself now so training camp won't be a system shock.
While Heyward-Bey is under contract for 2017 and 2018, he won’t look at that as any sense of security for a spot on the team.
"Whether you've got a three or five-year contract, to me you have to prove to this coaching staff and the scouting department you can still play," Heyward-Bey said.
Heyward-Bey will get his chance, but nothing is guaranteed, especially with the ridiculous camp battle about to ensue at the wide receiver position between Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers, Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant, Justin Hunter, Demarcus Ayers, Cobi Hamilton and Sammie Coates.
Get your popcorn ready...