Cameron Heyward: 'Time to capitalize' on Steelers' defensive investment

If there's any question about the Pittsburgh Steelers' intentions to rebuild the defense, just look at the last three drafts.

All six of the club's first- or second-round picks since 2014 have come on the defensive side. If things work out, all six -- including rookie defensive backs Artie Burns and Sean Davis -- will play a prominent role in 2016.

Defensive end Cam Heyward is taking notice of the Steelers' new capital. Heyward is the first of five first-round defenders in Pittsburgh since 2011, and his veteran presence only includes three years of full-time starter's experience. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is the only current starter who held that role in each of the last five seasons.

"[It shows] that there’s a lot of trust in our defense," said Heyward of the draft moves. "When you risk those valued picks on defense alone, they are expecting production. A lot will be called on with those guys, myself included. You don’t take it for granted. I remember when I was coming, there were more offensive guys getting drafted. It's a changing of the guard. You look at it and say, 'What are we going to do with it? There are a lot of expectations, now is the time to capitalize on it."

The three-year defensive rebuild hits a crucial point. The Steelers were among the league's best in sacks (48) and rushing defense (3.8 yards per carry) last season. But the pass defense flirted with 300 passing yards allowed per game past the midway point.

Heyward believes the Steelers found something late in 2015, sparked by three turnovers in a 33-20 win at Cincinnati on Dec. 13.

Heyward wants to see those games more consistently. He plans to do his part, working on his countermoves this offseason with goals for more sacks. Heyward has led the team the last two seasons with a combined 14.5 sacks.

With up to six starters at age 23 and under, the Steelers must expedite the growth process.

"I thought we took a lot of necessary steps, now we have to use that and say, 'Let’s not wait until there’s a quarter of a season left to be a great defense,'" Heyward said. "We can only build on what we did last year. If we can start that way, whoever we start with, it shouldn’t matter. By the end of the year, we should be better."