LATROBE -- Former Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke wasn't drafted as a player, but if coaches had to be drafted Hoke would enter the profession as a first-round pick.
He has "it," as a young coach, and he sees "it" this year out of defensive end Cameron Heyward.
"Cam's ready," said Hoke, a volunteer assistant to defensive line coach John Mitchell at this camp.
Hoke is proving to be a natural at correcting and motivating and coaching the linemen. And Heyward might just be the assistant to the assistant the way he jumps ahead in line for reps, jumps to help Hoke drag a blocking sled, or just plain jumps around with energy as a fit young stallion who's ready to play.
Problem is, Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel are ahead of Heyward, the 2011 first-round pick.
Hood most likely will receive a contract extension any day now, and Keisel is coming off another outstanding season.
As a 34-year-old, Keisel led the Steelers with 40 quarterback pressures, 21 more than runner-up Lawrence Timmons.
So where does Heyward fit?
“Of course it’s up to Coach Mitch, and Keis and Zig are playing good ball, too," Hoke said. "But it looks like Cam's ready. I can see all three of them getting a lot of snaps this season.”
How about it, Coach Mitch, a rotation at defensive end?
"When you’ve got an established front like we have, you want to bring guys slowly," Mitchell said..
"I don’t want to throw anybody in there who’s not ready to play. Cam has played quite a bit. He’s moving up, up every week, every year, so he’s going to have an opportunity to play quite a bit this year. Ziggy is playing well. Brett has played well. I’m going to have three guys that I feel like I wouldn’t care which two are in the ball game, that they can get the job done."
So Mitch all but came around and admitted he'll use some kind of three-man rotation.
"That's what you need," said Keisel, who'll turn 35 next month. "The season's long. It's brutal up front. You've got to have guys who can come in and contribute, and contribute consistently. That's what we need from Cam. And some of these other guys. I tell these kids all the time: There's probably never been more of an opportunity right now on the defensive line than there is right now. So we're hoping to see some of these young guys step in and rise to the occasion."
Loni Fangupo and Alameda Ta'amu are battling to be Steve McLendon's backup at nose tackle. Al Woods backs up the three ends, and before Monday's activation of Ta'amu had been playing nose tackle for the sake of game-day versatility. Brian Arnfelt and Cordian Hagans are the undrafted rookie longshots, as hungry and lean as yon Cameron.
"Yeah, Cam’s having a very good camp," Keisel said. "I’m proud of him. You know, I told him coming into this camp he needed to work hard and be ready to go. They brought him in here to play and we need him to play this year. We need him to play great. Usually when that third year comes you see more consistency, and we’re seeing that from Cam now."