“He reminds me a bit of a young Cam Heyward.”
That’s what Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said about rookie fifth-round draft pick Isaiahh Loudermilk when the Steelers returned in the fifth round to select the Wisconsin product.
Although that sounded a bit ridiculous, considering the recording of Loudermilk leaving school and Heyward’s status leaving Ohio State, the rookie defensive lineman showed glimpses of it after being pressed as a rookie much sooner than the Steelers might have anticipated. .
Following injuries to Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and Carlos Davis, and inconsistent play from Henry Mondeaux, Loudermilk got his shot and never looked back, proving that he could at least be a good running defender, ending his rookie season with a 48.6 Pro Football Focus rating in just 150 snaps.
“Going in, I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Loudermilk told reporters Thursday. according to video via Steelers.com. “I knew if I had some playing time, it wouldn’t be much. And then all kinds of things happened, injuries and things like that. So, like they kicked me out there. But I was up for just about anything, but I wouldn’t say I really expected to get as much as I did. But I mean I’m glad I did, I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a player, being able to go out there and play.”
While Loudermilk still has plenty of room for growth and development, he, at the very least, projects as a rotating defensive tackle in the future, which is a win for the Steelers, if that’s still their projection.
Fresh off a breakneck rookie season, Loudermilk spoke to reporters Thursday, and as usual, the conversation with Loudermilk often invoked Heyward’s name. Loudermilk, who even looks a bit like Heyward, said Thursday that he couldn’t have asked for a better rookie mentor than the Steelers’ star All-Pro defensive tackle and team captain.
“I mean, he pretty much showed me everything he could. Every time we did drills, we worked together,” Loudermilk said of Heyward, according to video via Steelers.com. “He would give me, you know, little tips, hand placement and things like that. So just being able to get in there and having a mentor like that helped me a lot. I think that’s one of the main reasons why I felt like I made a big jump from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Just sort of weeks after weeks of just taking little things from him. Just by watching how he does things and just feeding off of him. But, I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better mentor than Cam.”
Throughout training camp, Loudermilk could be seen working with Heyward at Heinz Field, so it’s great to hear the relationship and development continued throughout the season. The veteran defensive tackle was always quick to publicly praise the rookie, declaring before the first matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 that, “I like what I’ve seen so far. But there is more to do. What I liked is great, but what I hope is even better.”
While it’s great to have a guy of Heyward’s stature in his corner, Loudermilk also noted that the team captain wasn’t the only one to provide guidance, as he had to learn as he went. Some of that mentorship came from defensive end Stephon Tuitt and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, both of whom missed significant time this season.
“I mean, just having those guys around. Having Tweett near the beginning of the season just gives me tips on what he watches, stuff like that. Tyson, you know, being on the sidelines with us helped a lot just because those guys have played so much,” Loudermilk added. “They’ve seen a lot of things and they know more about the flow of the game, things they’re seeing than I do. So getting some little tips from them definitely helps. So, I mean, even though they weren’t playing us, they definitely made an impact.”
Now, with a full season under his belt and hopefully the return of Alualu and Tuitt to the lineup, Loudermilk will get an up-close look at what it takes to be great from the trio of veterans in the trenches. That will only do good things for his continued development in the NFL.