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.