Ties that bind: NFL family bloodlines run deep in 2011 draft

Cam Heyward was 17 when his father, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, died of a brain tumor.

He was old enough to remember a good portion of his dad's career as an NFL running back. He certainly was old enough to grasp what defined the elder Heyward's game: Sheer power and the ability to use it to his full advantage.

The younger Heyward's most overt method of honoring his father's memory might have been inscribing the words "Iron" and "Head" on the eye black he wore while playing defensive end at Ohio State. But he did much more than that to keep his spirit alive.

"I think we were both guys who loved to pound," Cam said. "He was trying to pound linebackers. I'm trying to go after tackles."

Other college prospects with family ties to the NFL will be looking to carry on similar legacies. Some, like Heyward, are sons of former players in the league. For Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews, his grandfather (Clay Sr.), father (Clay, Jr.) and uncle (Bruce) played in the NFL. His brother, Clay III ended his second season in the league by celebrating a Super Bowl victory with the Packers.

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Others are connected as nephews and cousins.

"Be calm, be patient," was the advice Clay Matthews III gave to his younger brother about handling the draft process.

The words pretty well apply to all things NFL these days, as the offseason of uncertainty continues. What is known, however, is that there will be a draft next month. And at that time, several players could be following in the footsteps of relatives.

Besides Matthews and Heyward, they include:

» Alabama running back Mark Ingram, son of former Giants wide receiver Mark Ingram.

» University of Connecticut linebacker Greg Lloyd, son of former Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd.

» Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan, son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan.

» Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey, twin brother of current Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.

» Penn State guard/center Stefen Wisniewski, nephew of former Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski.

» Boston College offensive tackle Richard Lapham, nephew of former Bengals guard Dave Lapham.

» Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle, cousin of current Giants safety Antrel Rolle.

» Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb, cousin of former Chargers tight end Shannon Mitchell.

» Alabama quarterback  Greg McElroy Jr., son of long-time Cowboys front-office executive Greg McElroy Sr. (the only non-former player in the group, although he was able to give his son plenty of exposure to the inside of an NFL organization).

The common thread among all of them is the desire to establish their own identity.

"I don't want to live in his shadow," Cam Heyward said of his father, who spent the bulk of an 11-year career with the Saints and Falcons. "He was a great player, and he's always in my heart. I appreciate everything he's done. But I want to do everything by my own (merit). I'm not asking anybody to give me a second look or anything just because my dad was 'Ironhead.' They all know I have a big head just like him."

It would seem that Casey Matthews faces the greatest amount of pressure to live up to a family name. His father had a long and successful career as a linebacker, going to four Pro Bowls during a 19-season career. His uncle is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And his brother is being fitted for a Super Bowl ring.

But that's something he has faced his whole life.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, just seeing the success my dad had, my brother is having," Casey said. "It's not necessarily that I have to live up to the name, though it would be nice playing at their level."

Like his brother and father, Casey wears his hair long because he likes "the look of it coming out the back of the helmet. It's just one of our trademarks." But Casey doesn't see himself as being a clone of his older brother. The way he sees it, he has better instincts -- which should be expected from an inside linebacker versus an outside linebacker -- while Clay is "more of an explosive athlete," as an outside linebacker should be.

Casey has mixed feelings about the potential of joining his brother in Green Bay. On one hand, it would be fun and make it easier on his family's travel plans.

"Then again, I don't know how people might perceive it," Casey said. "(They would say) 'You're playing in the shadow of your brother.' That's what it will start out as. I'd like to prove them wrong. No matter where I go, I'll definitely be trying to (make) a name for myself and not be known as Clay's son or Clay's little brother. That's definitely a compliment, though."

Mike Pouncey also experienced what it was like for his brother to be part of a Super Bowl team, although Maurkice missed the game with a fractured ankle. They were Gator teammates, but Mike elected not to enter last year's draft after being projected as a second-round draft pick. He anticipates being a first-rounder in April, and his hope is to be chosen higher than 18th, which was where the Steelers selected Maurkice.

Mike also is setting out to have a better rookie season than his brother, but that won't be easy considering that Maurkice made the Pro Bowl while helping his team win the AFC title.

"We're fierce competitors, obviously," Mike said. "Everything he accomplished, I want to do the same thing and even better."

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When talent evaluators study Mike's game tape, they feel they have seen it all before. And they essentially have, because Mike and Maurkice share similar styles.

"You can't really tell (us apart) on film," Mike said. "We really play the same."

What sets them apart?

"I think I block in the open field better," Mike said. "We're the same player, but I had an extra year to show my versatility and it helped me out tremendously."

Stefen Wisniewski has benefitted greatly from the knowhow his uncle gained as an eight-time Pro Bowler for the Raiders and from being an assistant offensive line coach for Oakland.

"He taught me a lot about what it takes to be a pro football player, as far as the strength and conditioning and the technique aspects of the game," Wisniewski said. "He was tremendous in building me into the football player that I am. One thing he was known for was finishing blocks and being a nasty guy, and that's what I always try to do. I like to finish my blocks, and I'm hearing positive feedback about the way I hustle, so that's one way I think we're similar."

He would love the opportunity to play for his uncle.

"I couldn't think of a better guy to work for," Wisniewski said.

Wherever he and the other prospects with NFL family ties land, they'll welcome the chance to carry on a tradition.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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