by dale grdnic
Brett Keisel made a huge entrance when he arrived at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, and his performance matched that during the team’s first full week at Saint Vincent College.
The 12th-year defensive end arrived at camp in an enormous dump truck, saying that the area was like a construction zone. Keisel also wore a No. 99 hard hat because the Steelers were “constructing our team.”
With a foreman like Keisel, the Steelers very well could build into a championship team, but they appear to be under the radar at the moment. Division rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati, the defending Super Bowl champion and playoff team, respectively, are favored. And perennial doormat Cleveland is expected to be on the rise. Where does that leave the Steelers?
“People can say what they want and believe what they want, but we know what we have in this locker room,” Keisel said. “We feel that we have the team and the talent to get back on top, but our first goal is to win the division. Good things happen when we do that, so we’re building toward that.”
With four new starters on offense, three on defense and youth everywhere on the depth chart, Keisel knows that the Steelers have a lot to prove
“The biggest thing we need is our young guys have to step up and seize this moment,” Keisel said. “Training camp is hard, especially for the young guys, because they’re taking most of the reps. They’re the ones the coaches want to see. That should show how well they can do.
“Either they’ll be able to do it, or they won’t be able to cut it. But I’m excited to watch them and see the strong ones rise up and do things to help us win games. I feel like we’re going to be tough this season, but there are still a lot of question marks right now.”
Keisel was given a couple days off during the middle of last week, which he described as “maintenance days,” but he appears to be practicing as hard as ever. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has ramped up the daily workouts with more hitting than ever during his seventh camp, and everyone has responded.
“Big brother Keisel can still get it done,” fellow defensive end Ziggy Hood said. “We look to him for guidance on and off the field. He still has a lot of energy and can still play at a high level in this league.”
How long that can continue should be addressed by Keisel and the Steelers at the end of this season, which is the last under his current contract. Keisel signed a five-year, $18.885 million agreement with a $5 million signing bonus before the 2009 season. He is scheduled to make $2.825 million this season and will become a free agent in 2014. There has been no talk yet about an extension.
“You know, I just want to go out and enjoy this year,” Keisel said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with everything, but this is the last year on my contract. So, I’m going to go out and give it my all and have fun and see what happens. … I enjoy camp, and I enjoy being up here with the guys. I like going out and competing and proving to myself that I can still get the job done.
“As long as my coaches and teammates feel like I can do it and I feel the same, then, let’s do it. (And) if it is the end, I want to go out on top. (But) I want to go out on top even if it’s not the end. With 12 seasons in the NFL, that’s pretty good, especially with a great organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’ve brought a couple trophies home, but we want to bring back another one.”
And with veterans like Keisel leading the way, there’s no telling how far the Steelers can go this season.
(Dale Grdnic is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh who writes occasional stories on Greybull native Brett Keisel and the Steelers.)