What The Return Of DE Brett Keisel Likely Means For The 2014 Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers decided Tuesday that they want one more year of “The Beard” as veteran defensive end Brett Keisel will reportedly return for a 13th season.

So what does Keisel’s return mean as it relates to the defense, playing time and other young players currently on the roster?

For starters, Keisel plays predominantly on the right side. While it’s too early to tell if he will be the starter, that’s the side he should see the majority of his snaps on in either the base or sub packages.

We all know that Cameron Heyward is going to start, so the side that he plays on will depend on whether or not Keisel is on the field. Realistically, I don’t expect Keisel to have to play more than about 25 snaps a game as the defense should be able to rotate in newcomer Cam Thomas and rookie Stephon Tuitt. Ideally, I think we will eventually see Heyward and Tuitt as the two primary defensive linemen on the field in sub packages at some point during the season.

So what does Keisel’s return do to the roster numbers on the defensive line? Assuming he passes the physical and is on the 53 man roster to start the season, Keisel is now one of five defensive linemen that are locks to make the roster. Now we will wait and see if they keep six or seven in total.

Who will be the sixth? At this point in the preseason my best guess would be that rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers will make the final 53 and possibly be a weekly inactive. If they don’t keep a seventh, that would leave second-year players Nick Williams, Brian Arnfelt and undrafted rookie free agent Josh Mauro all battling for spots on the practice squad. If they do keep a seventh, Mauro would be my choice.

So what about the practice squad? As of today, teams can keep ten players, so it’s not out of the question that two defensive linemen wind up there. The only way that would likely happen, however, is if only six are kept on the 53. I have a funny feeling that Mauro is headed that direction, but there are still two preseason games left to be played and we all know that injuries can and do happen. As far as a second practice squad defensive linemen, flip a coin between Arnfelt and Williams.

Keisel brings leadership and a solid understanding of the defense back to the team for one more season. This will really help take some of the burden off of Heyward for one more season and allow him focus on becoming a premier 3-4 defensive end. Keisel can help groom Tuitt and the other young players on the roster on top of everything else. He’s done it for years.

Keisel, in my opinion, was brought back to be a role player and when the dust finally settles, I can see him playing roughly 400 or so snaps in 2014. I like the move and it’s one I’ve been betting would happen all off season.

  • keth naab

    i have a feeling we’ll see Heyward on the left side and Keisel on the right side as our primary DL starters.

    I love Keisel. He’s a classic Steelers player. It’s time to move on.

  • Gautama Om

    It doesn’t matter who “starts”. What matters are the snap counts. In other words often they are on the field and I have a feeling there wont be a huge disparity in the snap counts between all the DE’s. At most a 2:1 ratio difference between the starters and backups or in other words the backups will play at least 1/3 of the snaps.

  • Ike Evans

    i think keisel rotates for heyward on the right….i dont think he plays in nickel, well, maybe….

  • Tiger Jimmy

    Are snap counts pre-planned etched in stones night before game day or they call it as Lebeau sees fit? I’m football lite weight.

  • Game_Time

    I think Keisel is a back-up/rotational player as well as a mentor for the young guys and when I say young guys, I do include Mauro as I think they keep him as a 7th DL learning from and eventually replacing Da Beard as Cams back-up next year

  • Tanner Blackman

    Let’s get James next

  • RW

    400 snaps is too many for him. I like him as a reserve, but not a rotational player. Best if he comes in for 2-4 plays a game if the Steelers can help it.


    I believe Keisel is here for injuries only, and will be the deactivated one weekly, as Big Dan is a force in the middle and has kick-off blocking capabilities on Special Teams; and when McCullers comes in, we already have a stacked rotation of Heyward, Thomas, Tuitt, (and Mauro) on the ends…Go Steelers!

  • Still_JPDQ

    And furthermore, injuries will more than likely dictate who plays and how much.

  • David Hosmer

    you wrote “assuming he passes physical and is on the 53 man roster, Keisel is now one of the five defensive linemen that are locks to make the roster.” Yes, if you assume he makes the roster then I would call him a lock to make the roster.

  • Lil Smitty

    That is what I am thinking. They seem to be favoring Mauro & McCullers as backups. That leaves them very young at Dline. It looks like Arnfelt & Fangupo are going bye-bye.

  • Rob H

    Wexell tweeted that he thinks that they are going to keep
    7 on the D line with Mauro and McCullers both making it, with McCullers being a game day inactive.
    If that’s how it ends up, I’m okay with it, I just really worry about Mitchell and his distain for playing rookies, he had to be forced by Tomlin to put Heyward in the starting line up last year.

  • ApexSteel

    As long as he doesn’t hinder Tuitt’s development, I’m fine with the move.

  • William Weaver

    Go ahead Dave. Say “I told you so”.. Lol you earned it! James Harrison double checking his phone today?

  • 2443scott

    no matter how or when he plays the team still needs a little older leadership for the younger guys its their time and brett knows this and will fill the roll of helping the younger guys out …now if he can only find one those younger guys that can grow a beard and take over for him on that it be a perfect world on the def line again ..

  • Smokin_Smiley

    you guys r crazy hes been working out all off season and knew he was coming back …..he never even cleaned out his locker…he will be used in the rotation and will do well……..he may be older but he can still light it up when fresh and healthy

  • awlcohen

    leadership and a solid understanding of the defense? So why did it take until the 3rd week in August to sign him?

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    This is a very good point. We have three DL rookies expected to make the roster. Let me repeat that… Three ROOKIES. We needed a veteran leader on the DL desperately.

    Keisel is an emotional/vocal player. I could see Tuitt and McCullers benefiting tremendously from his example.

    I also think Keisel’s off the field habits/routine will be an excellent guide for these kids to follow.

    Plus it makes Ben happier.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    You don’t even know how many snaps will be in the game until it’s over.

    so no.

    No stones either.

  • IckyD

    In a pass-happy NFL D-line rotation with effective pass-rushers is the name of the game on defense, and Brett Keisel has ALWAYS been “that guy” who is able to reach up to bat down passes and block passing lanes.

    His experience will help keep the young guys even-keeled and to have steady motors.

    “Starters” don’t really matter so much anymore for the defense- rotation and fresh legs, good pass-coverage and solid tackling are the game today imho..

  • IckyD

    Keisel is tricky-quick in short bursts and can ruin seam and crossing patterns.

    Brett can cover for a 6’5″/290#er…..in short areas, that is.

  • IckyD

    Arnfelt would be a loss; they should find a way to keep him. He’s a no-quit, smart, strong guy w/upside i think.

  • Asmitty56

    Not a chance i’m risking McCullers and Mauro on the PS, I would think both have to make it on the roster. I’m completely bummed that it seems like Tuitt will have to go through what Heyward had to as a rookie, hardly seeing the field..

  • Big White

    He probably won’t play a down. He will probably be the next Steeler “Director fan Development”. Which, in reality, he already is. This was not a football move, but a public relations move and it was the CORRECT move. Love Kiesel, but I have very low football expectation in all of this. Keisel couldn’t carry Mauro’s jock strap football wise. Sorry to be “that” guy.

  • Big White

    BTW, if Keisel makes the squad through a bolt of lightning, one of the following will be out: Thomas or McClendon. My guess would be McClendon.


    To rest him. He had no need to go through the pre-season workload. His locker was never cleaned out.

  • Virdin Barzey

    Not sure why all the hate for Keisel. He’s not going to be the starter and he will bring experience and depth. Love the move and the energy he will bring. Here we go!

  • gdeuce

    Do you mean McClendon or McCullers?

  • CW

    I’m hoping they find a way to keep seven, but McCullers over Mauro if there are only six.

  • Wow, saying and undrafted rookie is better than a former pro bowler,,, a bit of a stretch, no? Everyone is so afraid to risk Mauro and Howard Jones to the PS. Realistically, the chances of them being signed to another teams ACTIVE roster is pretty slim. Once in the last 5 years has someone (Sunny Harris I believe) been claimed or signed.. Can we please cool our jets on these camp phenoms?

  • You show little to no football intelligence. Neither of those guys are going anywhere.

  • Dominus

    if getting Kiesel back makes us risk of losing Mcullers or Mauro to another team hoping they clear waivers…IM STRONGLY AGAINST THIS DECISION!

  • CodeNameJerk

    It just feels right.

  • Toddy Bravo

    I think it means we definitely will keep 7 D-linemen. Keisel was indeed brought back to teach and groom an extremely young and talented group and obviously to provide quality depth and leadership, so why not keep a 7th to add to the group the Beard can mentor. I’d bet a a lot of money our 7 will be the 5 locks, plus McCullers and Mauro. Keisel’s spot as 2nd team RDE will open up next year very nicely for Mauro to slide in to.

  • Louis Goetz

    I guess the big question is with Keisel taking up a roster spot, who isn’t going to make the final 53 now, that would’ve made it before? Everyone is talking about Mauro, but perhaps the better question is: does this signing mean there’s no room for L. Jones, T. Garvin, H. Jones, or S. Richardson? Landry Jones certainly hasn’t made a case for himself, but are the Steelers really going to go with only 2 QBs? Terrance Garvin has “position flexibility” and contributes on special teams, but there’s no denying what Howard Jones has done. Then again, do the Steelers really keep 5 OLBs? Shaquille Richardson, despite being a 5th rounder, hasn’t performed well and is hurt, but Cortez Allen isn’t signed long-term yet, William Gay is, well, William Gay, and this is supposed to be Ike’s last season. Can we really afford to let go of Richardson?

  • Steelers@2010

    No! James Harrison Playing Days in the Burgh are over.

  • Steelers@2010

    Mitchell had to be forced by Tomlin to put Heyward in the starting line up last year? How do you know that? If anybody forced the Coaches to make a change, I think it came from the Top – Ala Mr. Rooney. Too often in years past the Steelers played their veterans at the expense of training their backups to one day take over. As a result of that to include poor drafting the past four years by Kevin Colbert, we all saw back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

  • William Weaver

    Will he only be in there in the base D? Tuitt and Cameron in sub package? McClendon only get nose tackle duty? Great to have the beard back and ready to go in case of energy because we would be hurting quickly if we have a single D line injury, not to mention 2.

  • Bvrsty

    what this really means is goodness. leadership for the young ones. and keisel will drive a tractor to the first home game.

  • Matt Manzo

    McCullers is safe. But maybe Mauro?

  • DirtDawg1964

    I think you have hit on why Keisel is being signed – three of the best DL are rookies. I’m all for the youth movement but having three rookies in the rotation would be challenging. It’s quite possible the Steelers will keep seven on the roster and deactivate two every game. No matter what happens here I don’t McCullers and Mauro see much playing time this year.

  • Jim McCarley

    I do not like this and here’s why……if keisel takes a spot away from a young player that the team would have normally kept, then it is a bad move…imo. They need youth and speed and Keisel has neither. Heck, if you need him as a leader/mentor, then hire him as a coach and then if they get someone hurt, then sign him to play. This better work. he better makes some plays. Maybe the team is just trying to light a fire under some of the other guys and they will eventually cut Keisel before the Cleveland game….? I like the guy, but if he still had enough in him to contribute, the team would have signed him long ago….imo.

  • Zach

    love the move — Keisel is quality depth and leadership that are much needed on the DL. I just hope he signed for the veteran minimum to not hurt our cap.

  • Zach

    I respectfully disagree. Also, there’s no way he will be cut barring major injury.

  • Big White

    No, Mauro is real deal. Ok, maybe a little geeked up about the guy, but what’s not to like? Plus, I keep up with Keisel, he’s out doing great community work, kissing babies, judging hot dog eating contests and such. What real game shape is the guy in? He’s been a little nicked up the last few years eh??

  • DoctorNoah

    That’s silly. We will keep Heyward, Keisel, Thomas, McClendon, Tuitt, McCullers and Mauro. At least one of the roomies if not two will be game day inactives. If Mauro fails to impress as he has done over the next two weeks, we may only keep six and try to send Mauro to PS. Keisel’s been expecting this and is close to game shape in all likelihood.

  • DoctorNoah

    Would love, love, love this!

  • DoctorNoah

    I think Shaq or HoJo may be headed to the newly expanded PS. Just because they don’t make the 53 their first year doesn’t mean they’re lost… I think the team likes Blake right now. And Shamarko has already shown the ability to cover the slot, so I think they’re less worried than we are about cornerback numbers

  • steeltown

    With the PS limit moving to 10 players.. I could see Mauro and Arnfelt both making the squad, next year one of them moves up when Keisel officially retires.

  • steeltown

    Tuitt will be used primarily at LDE, whereas Keisel is a RDE, the only thing holding Tuitt back is Cam Thomas.

    Keisel will only help Tuitt in his development IMO

  • steeltown

    I think McCullers makes this roster

  • steeltown

    Agreed. I want So’oto on roster over Howard Jones anyway, HoJo can go to the PS, has hasn’t shown anything on Defense, yet

    IMO Mauro could still make the roster if we keep 7DL

  • steeltown

    I respectfully disagree

  • steeltown

    2nd this

  • steeltown

    Yea but it appears Arnfelt and N.Williams have not taken the next step, yet. I think the coaches expected more from these guys. But, they could easily be placed on the practice squad at this point.

  • I’m very high on Mauro, but, yes, it could be next year that he truly emerges as part of the rotation. But having him on the practise squad, with or without a second like Arnfelt, would do a lot to ensure we have excellent depth all across the line. And I’m certainly hoping McCullers proves to be a reliable backup NT (if maybe behind Thomas this year). In any event, I do agree that signing Keisel was a good move and should help solidify the line and provide veteran experience the team needs.

  • ApexSteel

    True, but the top back-up is still the top back-up.

  • Doug

    The goal is to put the best team on the field every week. Can people really say that Mauro or Arnfelt are currently better than Keisel? No way.

  • Big White

    Mauro will continue the good play, he’s a beast.

  • Rob H

    It was mentioned by quite a few of the writers that cover the team on more than one occasion, when and after it happened last year. Mitchell’s extreme reluctance to play younger guys if he can avoid it is well known, he had a little hissy fit with the writers at camp this year when they kept asking him to comment about how good Tuitt looked.

  • Luis Garcia

    This move surprised me at first, now I am starting to get it and of course we are talking about our very own Brett Keisel. Welcome back man.

  • Steve

    25 snaps per 16 games = 400 snaps per season, which Bret will/can do.

  • Steve

    Heyward was drafted in 2011. Last year was his 3rd year!

  • Steve

    Very well said!

  • Steve

    Keep dreaming! The BS is overwhelming from you!

  • Big White

    If I’m on the 53 and Keisel starts…………I’m ticked off. You cannot do this as an organization. You cannot put certain personalities to the front of the line while guys are working and part of the process. I want Keisel on the team and I hope he does start. For god’s sake he has some of the best intuition and instincts at the position we’ve seen in years. However there is a code and the code needs to be respected. I would have no problem if the Steelers signed the guy, but for the sake of the locker room, it looks like favoritism over merit.

  • Big White

    Mauro is.

  • Big White

    Mauro is going to be a cross between JJ Watt and Brock Lesner. I want everyone here to remember the day (August 20th 2014) that I called it. This guy has Pro Bowl written all over him. His instincts are far beyond his draft status. At Stanford they coach the organ between the ears and his motor is unrelenting. If the Steelers start anyone over Mauro, with the exception to Heyward, at defensive end it will be TEMPORARY. Again, I love Keisel, but he could not carry Mauro’s jock strap right now. http://www.youtube/watch?v=Vlfz7M6PRCA

  • RW

    That’s 25 snaps per game he’s taking away from the development of tuitt. This is the mentality that’s sunk us the past two years and left us with so many question marks this year. Not a matter of if he’lk do it but should he do it.

  • Steve

    Took Heyward 4 years to get where he is at, don’t think this would take development away from Tuitt, if anything it may help him develop faster.

  • Steve

    Your talking about apples and oranges. Dan is NT and Bret is a DE.


    What does that have to do with anything I wrote? When McCullers is in McClendon slides into the DE rotation (his natural position) thus making Keisel an extra body……it’s moot now though if we have to keep 2 LS’s, most likely forcing us to try and drop Mauro to the PS – which he will never make it through waivers for us (AZ and a couple others don’t have near the depth that we do right now). We will just have to see, but I would love to see Big Dan in there clogging up the middle occasionally throughout the game and not just watching it from one of the best seats in the house every week. Go Steelers!

  • Steve

    McClendon has NEVER played DE. When McCullers is in in the nickel Tuitt is usually in also. If you knew football you would know this.


    ***Steve McLendon is an American football player that primarily plays nose tackle and occasionally lines up as a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers …..he is NOT or has ever been our proto-typical Steelers NT, and while decent at his job, does not do what is truly needed and expected there; because he is more suited and sized for DE, but has been loyally doing what the coaches have asked of him. I’ve known Steeler football all my life, and we all know “never say never”(especially in all CAPS) is actually true. Go Steelers!