PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that has become accustomed to dealing with injuries through the first five weeks of the season.
And the list keeps growing.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward was the latest starter affected after he left Sunday’s 31-13 victory against the New York Jets in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
The Steelers’ defense didn’t miss a beat in the second half despite the loss of the defensive captain.
“We know Cam is one of the leaders on our defense,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “The next guy stepped up and stepped up big.”
Tuitt led the defensive line with Heyward sidelined as Pittsburgh shut out the Jets in the second half. The Steelers limited New York to five first downs and just 100 yards over the final two quarters while harassing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with an effective pass rush.
They may have to do it again Sunday at Miami (1-4) with Heyward’s consecutive games-played and started streaks in jeopardy.
Since entering the NFL as the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2011, Heyward has played in 85 consecutive regular-season games, third-longest active among NFL defensive ends. He also started 49 straight, which is fifth-best among defensive ends.
Heyward didn’t speak with reporters on Monday, but he didn’t sound optimistic about his availability following Sunday’s game. He underwent a MRI and said he felt soreness, but didn’t know if there was a ‘pop’ in his hamstring.
“It definitely wasn’t precautionary,” Heyward said Sunday. “If I could be out there I would. Other guys have to step up. We’re going to need them all as long as I’m out.”
Possible replacements: Rookie Javon Hargrave and veteran Ricardo Mathews shared snaps at defensive end with Heyward out. Hargrave, who also played defensive tackle on Sunday, would like to see Heyward on the field, but he’s comfortable with the additional workload.
“It was pretty good to see my role increase,” Hargrave said. “If he can’t go, we’ll have to step up as a defensive line. He’s our leader, but at the same time, we have guys that can fill that role.”
The Steelers at least have a little bit of practice subbing for Heyward. He sustained a high ankle sprain during the Steelers’ third preseason game and missed practice time, but worked his way back in time for the team’s regular-season opener at Washington.
Heyward led the way again two weeks ago as the Steelers defensive end — frustrated after a lopsided rout at Philadelphia — had a career-best three sacks and tipped a pass that led to a timely interception during a blowout win against Kansas City.
“He goes hard every time,” Hargrave said. “When you see somebody dominating, you want to be dominant too.”
Heyward expects Tuitt to fill that role if he can’t play.
“He better be ready,” Heyward said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be out, but he’s got to step up. He’s telling me he’s talking a lot more and we need him to do that. When I come back, we can do that twice as much. He’s only going to grow in this situation.”
Notes: Steelers LB Ryan Shazier missed the previous two weeks with a knee injury, but said Monday that it feels better and he hopes to return soon. … Safety Robert Golden, also out the previous two weeks with a hamstring injury, said he could’ve played Sunday, but he was held out as a precaution. … Receiver Sammie Coates wore a large ace bandage, but indicated he won’t miss practice after sustaining a cut on his left hand that required stiches Sunday.