PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel is heading into his 13th NFL season, but the veteran defensive end can still recall sweating out the final cuts when he was a rookie seventh-round pick -- No. 242 overall in 2002 -- hoping he had shown the Steelers' coaches enough to make the 53-man roster.
Keisel, as much as anyone in the Steelers’ locker room, can appreciate what those who survive the cuts -- which are taking place across the league -- have endured. That doesn’t mean the fringe players who make the Steelers will receive much more than a succinct congratulations from “Da Beard.”
“When we come into work, it’s all about moving forward; it’s all about winning,” Keisel said. "We all need we know to start fast.”
The Steelers all but buried themselves last season with their first 0-4 start since 1968, and team leaders such as Keisel won’t tolerate anything that closely resembles a repeat.
Keisel is still working his way back into football shape after re-signing with the Steelers on Aug. 20, and his role with the team remains unclear.
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive end played his first snaps Thursday night since last December. And the grin he wore in the home locker room afterward neatly summed up his emotions after getting back out on the field.
“I’m glad coach [Mike Tomlin] gave me the opportunity to go out there and play a little bit and get my feet wet,” Keisel said after the Steelers’ 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers. “He said he was going to going to take me to the deep end.”
Tomlin didn’t quite go to that extreme.
But Keisel played more than a quarter, and he almost forced a turnover after getting his hand on Derek Anderson’s arm following a free run at the Panthers’ quarterback. When asked to evaluate his performance after the Steelers' final preseason game, Keisel said, “Probably a B-minus, so it’s good to be above average, I guess. I’ve got work to do.”
That he is still working for the Steelers couldn’t mean more to Keisel, who was introduced with the rest of the defensive starters before the start of the game against the Panthers.
“There were a lot of questions whether I’d have the opportunity to do that again, to run out of that tunnel again,” said Keisel, who turns 36 next month. “I love playing this game. I love this team. I love everything that comes with being a Steeler.”