Player-coaches are a thing of the past, a relic from football’s early days when Curly Lambeau, George Halas, Tom Landry, and even as “recently” as the late Dan Reeves in the early 1970s. These days, players play, coaches coach. But in Week One’s opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cam Heyward did a bit of both. His individual performance was excellent, literally starting the season with a sack, and had another wiped out by a Cam Sutton hold.
But his impact wasn’t just what he did after the snap. Heyward made sure his teammates were aligned correctly before it, too. I put together a short cut-up of four plays of Heyward aligning teammates in response to the Bengals shifts and motions, mostly directing young/new guys in Larry Ogunjobi and DeMarvin Leal to put them in the right gaps before the snap of the football.
Here’s the clips. Keep an eye on the RDT, Heyward, signaling players where to go.
That’s what having a veteran does for a defense. Not just off-field leadership, how to prepare, how to watch film, how to take care of your body, though all those things are vital too.
They may seem like little things but they’re critical. Being the right gap, being aligned correctly, so you’re rushing in the correct gap and not leaving escape lanes by being too bunched up. A pass rush works as a unit, not four/five individuals just doing their own things. If two guys rush in the same gap or if there isn’t proper contain, the quarterback is going to find the gap and run, especially given all the mobility QBs have in today’s NFL.
It’s all part of what makes Heyward such a valuable player and though he’s received more league-wide recognition in recent years, in large part thanks to the team changing his designation from DE to DT, his impact remains underrated. And I love seeing little things like this.