Family leads Brett Keisel back to Steelers

PHILADELPHIA -- A starting job awaited him in Arizona when he boarded a flight to Phoenix early Tuesday morning.

What brought him back to Pittsburgh, where there are no guarantees as far as starting, was a pull even stronger than Brett Keisel's desire to play his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was really my wife and kids,” Keisel said Thursday night before leaving the visiting locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. “They took me to the airport and my kids were looking at me with doe eyes and wondering what’s going on and where are you going and how long are you going to be gone.”

Keisel, as it turned out, was gone for less than a day. He immediately flew back to Pittsburgh after meeting with the Arizona Cardinals, and by Tuesday evening the veteran defensive end had agreed to a two-year, $3 million contract that included a $500,000 signing bonus.

Keisel traveled with the team to Philadelphia and dressed for the Steelers’ preseason game. He didn’t play against the Eagles but the game made clear why the Steelers brought back Keisel for a 13th season.

The Steelers were gashed repeatedly by the Eagles' running backs, even after LeSean McCoy left the game in the first quarter with a thumb injury. And they yielded 182 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per carry in a 31-21 loss to the Eagles.

Keisel had joked with coach Mike Tomlin before the game that he might try to sneak onto the field so he could play in his first game since late last December. The 6-foot-6, 285-pounder probably had to really restrain himself as he watched the Eagles go up and down the field against the Steelers’ first-team defense.

“I wish I could have helped. I never like watching,” Keisel said. “I’ll back go and look at [film] with them and try to correct some of the mistakes that were made.”

Keisel figures to be part of the solution if the Steelers are to fix a run defense that is allowing 4.8 yards per carry during the preseason. The question moving forward is where he will fit in after practicing with the Steelers on Wednesday.

The Steelers listed Keisel as the starting right defensive end on their depth chart after he signed with the team. They later put him fourth on the depth chart, behind rookie Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams and Ethan Hemer.

Tomlin did not commit to anything when asked about Keisel’s return to the Steelers.

“Obviously Brett is a capable NFL lineman and we’ve been in continual communication with him,” the eighth-year coach said. “I’m glad to have him back in the fold. He’s in great shape. We’ll see what the football looks like.”

Said Keisel, “I think I can still play.”

That Keisel, who turns 36 next month, is again playing for the Steelers can be traced -- at least from his part -- to the offseason he spent pondering his next move.

Keisel did not take part in offseason practices, and the five months he had off gave him more time to spend with his wife, Sarah, daughter, Grace, and sons Jacob and William. In the end, "Da Beard" could not leave them even if the Cardinals may have offered a better opportunity than the Steelers.

“[The offseason] really did bring us closer and going to the airport it just really put things into perspective for me,” Keisel said. “I’m just grateful that [the Steelers] helped work something out to where I could finish where I started.”