Steelers making lineman Colon a top priority

| Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Steelers stabilized their secondary and kicking game by agreeing to four-year contracts with cornerback Ike Taylor late Tuesday night and kicker Shaun Suisham on Wednesday.

With training camp opening Thursday — players are required to report to St. Vincent College no later than 3 p.m. — the biggest question involving the Steelers' own free agents is what will happen with Willie Colon.

The Steelers and Joe Linta, Colon's agent, have had talks on a long-term contract, but Linta said Colon is also attracting interest outside of Pittsburgh.

Colon, who started 54 consecutive games at right tackle from 2009, said he has fully recovered from an Achilles injury that sidelined him last season. And next to Taylor the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder is the most coveted of the Steelers' unrestricted free agents.

Linta said he is cautiously optimistic that he and the Steelers will reach a deal that keeps Colon in Pittsburgh.

Teams are allowed to agree on contracts in principle with free agents but can't officially sign them before 6 p.m. Friday.

"We're happy that coach (Mike) Tomlin and (offensive line) coach (Sean) Kugler have maintained with Willie that he's one of the top tackles in the league," Linta said Wednesday.

Flozell Adams' standing with the Steelers may be tied to Colon. Adams exceeded all expectations last season when he signed with the Steelers in July and moved from left to right tackle to fill in for Colon.

But if the Steelers re-sign Colon, Adams would become expendable, especially since he is due $5 million this season and would provide salary cap relief if he is released.

The Steelers have moved somewhat slowly relative to the frenzied pace in which free agents have been locked up since Tuesday, the first day teams were allowed to negotiate with unrestricted free agents.

The Steelers didn't create nearly as much buzz by agreeing to terms Suisham as they did with Taylor, but his return gives them an experienced kicker.

Suisham made 14-of-15 field goal attempts after replacing the erratic Jeff Reed in the mid-November. He missed two field goals during the postseason, including a 52-yarder in the Super Bowl. But the Steelers had deemed Suisham a priority among the 14 players on their roster who became unrestricted free agents after the players approved a collective bargaining agreement Monday.

The Steelers landed their No. 1 target when Taylor agreed to a four-year deal. They will have to wait a little longer to get their top cornerback back on the field.

Unrestricted free agents such as Taylor are not allowed to practice until Aug. 4, the day the new CBA is set to be officially ratified.

That means the Steelers' first open practice Thursday will be without some familiar faces — at least on the field.

In addition to free agents who haven't signed, Steelers draft picks are not allowed in camp until they are officially under contract.

Time is of the essence for those players because they can't afford to miss much camp. All of them — along with the 20 undrafted free agents who the Steelers have signed — have to get acclimated to the NFL on the fly because the lockout wiped out an entire offseason of practices and workouts.

"It's going to be different. Their heads are not only going to be spinning because they're in full-speed training camp but because they're trying to learn their plays at the same time," veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said. "But at the same time there's no time to rest, no time to screw up, so they've got to get it down now. Their jobs are depending on it."

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