PITTSBURGH — Darrius Heyward-Bey will not go quietly into the Steelers’ depth chart.
Heyward-Bey, who was a starter before a foot injury in Week 9 derailed his 2016 season, has to navigate a suddenly crowded receiver room after the return of Martavis Bryant and the addition of second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft said he’s recovered from multiple injuries and eager to re-establish his role.
“I wanted to prove not only to the coaches but to myself that I can play with these younger guys,” Heyward-Bey said.
Three things helping Heyward-Bey’s case: He’s still fast, he’s a Todd Haley favorite and he’s a valuable special-teamer. But his role is hard to define just yet because of the infusion of young talent at receiver, from Bryant/Smith-Schuster to slot receiver Eli Rogers, a now-healthy Sammie Coates and Demarcus Ayers. The team also added veteran Justin Hunter and returns Cobi Hamilton, a part-time starter last year.
A reasonable guess is the Steelers keep six receivers for Week 1.
To prepare for one of those spots, Heyward-Bey nurtured the speed that made him a combine freak in 2009.
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. Heyward-Bey enters the second year of a three-year, $3.8-million contract, but that might as well be a one-year deal to him.
“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.