Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel is getting his first taste of football of the year this week. He was dressed for Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles without having taken even a single practice rep. Of course, he didn’t play in the game either.
The last time he was involved in football activities of any kind was in December, as he played what could have easily been the last game of his career against the Cleveland Browns in the Steelers’ season finale.
If he is going to start for Pittsburgh at some point this year, it may take a while before he is able to work himself into football shape.
He may have over a decade of experience in Dick LeBeau’s system, but a refresher course after being away from it for so many months wouldn’t hurt either.
The Steelers’ practices this week leading up to the final preseason game on Thursday is the first time that Keisel is hitting again, maintaining his gap, executing stunts and blitzes, and things of that nature.
And after that short period of time he’ll be thrown into action against the Carolina Panthers in three days—assuming he makes the Tuesday cut. Not that there should be any worry about that.
But there should be worries about how soon he will be up to speed, considering the regular season is fast approaching. Not even simply being able to play with sound fundamentals and technique, but also how long he can play.
Of course, it’s still unclear what type of role Keisel will serve in his 13th season. Whether he’ll be a starter or a rotational player remains to be seen.
But even if he ends up being a starter by name, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his snap count cut significantly as the Steelers heavily rotate in Stephon Tuitt and Cam Thomas.
Not to mention, the performance and progress of the two aforementioned players will have a lot to do with whether or not Keisel is even needed in the starting lineup.
Considering that Cameron Heyward has spent the entire offseason practicing and playing on the right side of the defensive line, it should be interesting to see if the coaching staff moves him over to the left side to accommodate Keisel.
The veteran was predominantly a right-handed player throughout his career, which largely consisted of playing across from heavily left-handed players such as Aaron Smith, and then Ziggy Hood most recently.
Heyward, meanwhile, spent most of his first three seasons going back and forth from the left side to the right whenever one of the two would come off the field.
It’s unknown how many of these questions will be answered on Thursday when Keisel is expected to see his first playing time, unless of course he comes out as a starter. If he does not, however, it can’t be assumed that he won’t in the near future.
It’s also not certain that he will get any playing time with the starters on Thursday, so we may not get a chance to see if either he or Heyward will be the accommodating party when both are on the field together.