As the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off their second week of training camp, the temperatures continued to climb while pads came on for the first time. In any camp, once the pads come on, the intensity tends to escalate between players getting more and more physical as they fight for roster spots. Fans were able to catch a few ‘altercations’ on Tuesday featuring some key players. Included were Cameron Heyward and Benny Snell Jr.
While we know there is a lot of talking happening on the practice field, there is always the floating question surrounding the spark between the veteran defensive leader and a four-year backup running back. The chatter led to the two needing to be separated during practice. On Heyward’s most recent edition of his Not Just Football podcast, he revealed what went down leading to the scuffle.
“I would say the reason behind the fight is, I’m a chippy person. I tend to start things and most people don’t like it,” Heyward explained. “I think Benny was over the pile and then I gave him a shove and he gave me a shove and someone was holding me back but nobody was holding Benny back and so he got a shot in on me and I was like, ‘oh, no, we’re not ending it at that,’ and so I just started to race after him, and you know, I got kicked out of that drill. So those were my reps for the day for that drill.”
It sounds like Mike Tomlin and Defensive Line Coach, Karl Dunbar, aren’t open to any extracurricular activities from anyone, regardless of seniority or tenure on the roster. The fight ended with Dunbar grabbing Heyward’s helmet and taking it to the sideline. Regardless, it seems as though the rumors of Snell Jr. throwing a punch at Heyward while Heyward was being held back were true.
“I had to give a little yell at one of my players, I was just like, ‘don’t hold me back. Hold him back so I can get more shots in. And that goes for anybody, you know, whoever we’re facing, obviously I won’t be fighting in a game but, we’re going to attack them, don’t just hold each other back, let’s get our shots in,” Heyward said jokingly. “I’m still getting in fights, don’t worry about that. That’s a camp tradition for me so, next Connor Heyward is on my list (laughs). I’m going to make sure he gets plenty of hits going forward.”
The fight from Snell’s perspective, however, may have had less of a joking matter behind it. With the Steelers carrying very little depth at running back behind Najee Harris in camp, there are a mix of rookie talent in Mateo Durant, current camp standout Jaylen Warren, and veterans Anthony McFarland and Snell. With Snell being in the final year of his rookie contract, he needs every rep he can get at camp and in the preseason. That to solidify his roster spot come September and prove himself worthy of a contract extension. Snell simply cannot afford to show any signs of slowing down in drills, even if that means facing off against Heyward.
This wasn’t Heyward’s first fight in Steelers’ training camp, and probably won’t be the last.
With days and reps consistently coming and going, fights in camp are not going to be uncommon. For Tomlin, fights are a bit of the norm for his style of camp. In 2012, we saw a tussle between Ike Taylor and Antonio Brown on multiple occasions. Both players were known for their ‘never-back-down’ attitudes and training camp was the culmination of those being combined. These fights would extend beyond practice and had then-General Manager, Kevin Colbert, in between Brown and Taylor to break up the fight. Shortly thereafter, Tomlin would brush these off by simply saying:
“We’re competitors… those things happen.”
As Heyward alluded to, this wasn’t his first fight in camp. Although he keeps things relatively calm in actual games, it’s clear he likes to pressure the emotions of his teammates. In 2019, Heyward and Alejandro Villanueva got into some extended action after a play with neither standing down. After the dust settled, it turned out the catalyst behind the scuffle was over a difference in opinion of Game of Thrones ideologies.
“There’s no place for fighting in training camp. It’s childish and unprofessional for both of us,” Villanueva said. “Again, it’s just a very different opinion that he has of the show.”
Camp is one of the few times where occasional altercations are expected; it is the nature of training camp. Tomlin does what he can to manage those effectively, yet encourages a physical camp. As Heyward explained, he tries to get it all out of his system in camp to avoid dumb things from happening in games. Seeing as though Heyward is the seasoned, grizzled veteran leader of the Steelers in 2022, I don’t expect him to be taking anything additional from the offense.
What training camp fights do you remember from years past? Do you think fights are good or bad for training camp? Let us know in the comments below!