A veteran's advice to players on the bubble

Brett Keisel is in his 12th NFL season, and is as established as they come. The veteran defensive end has won a pair of Super Bowl rings, has made a Pro Bowl, and he will likely be a team captain for the second year in a row.

That doesn’t mean he can’t empathize with the players in the Steelers’ locker room who find themselves squarely on the cut line.

Who knows, after all, how things might have played out for Keisel had there only two been two preseason games in 2002 when he was a rookie seventh-round pick trying to make the Steelers.

“My first two games I was pathetic,” Keisel recalled. “I was putting too much pressure on myself. When I just finally relaxed and realized that I’m playing football, I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

Keisel’s advice to the players whose cleats he once wore?

"Just go out there and give it great effort because that’s what the coaches want to see,” he said. “They know you’re going to mess up. They know you’re not going to be perfect. But if you’re out there going 100 percent, plays are going to fall to you and that’s what they want to see.”

That approach worked for Keisel.

The former BYU star ended up making the team as a rookie, and he rose steadily after playing sparingly in 2002 and then missing the following season because of a shoulder injury.

Keisel, the 242nd pick of the 2002 draft, made his mark on special teams before graduating to the starting lineup in 2006. He has been a mainstay on the Steelers’ defensive line since then.

One thing Keisel can’t emphasize enough to players on the fringe: the importance of making themselves noticed on special teams Thursday night at Carolina -- for the right reasons, of course.

“That’s what they’re looking for, and it’s no secret,” Keisel said of the Steelers coaches. “There’s two or three or four roster spots available, and if they see someone go out there that’s consistently good on special teams and then they see someone else who’s a good player but really didn’t do anything on special teams, they’re always going to keep the special-teams players because special teams is just as big as offense and defense. Field position is everything.”