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Steelers' Keisel living in the moment

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel practices Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, St. Vincent.

Diesel power

Breaking down the career of Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel:

Drafted 7th round (2002)

Games 128

Games started 98

Sacks 25

Tackles 227

Fumble recoveries 7

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Alan Robinson
Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, 10:29 a.m.
 

He turns 35 next month — he is the Steelers' oldest starter — so the words “next season” don't appear in defensive end Brett Keisel's vocabulary these days.

“I haven't really thought about what is going to happen in the future,” Keisel said Thursday. “I'm focused on this year, leading this team this year and getting us back to where we belong.”

This is an especially important and potentially pivotal season for a Steelers defensive line that, for years, was stable with Keisel and Aaron Smith at end and Casey Hampton in the middle.

All that's changing.

Hampton is gone, replaced by Steve McLendon. And Keisel and former first-round pick Ziggy Hood are in the final seasons of their contracts, their futures unsettled beyond this season.

Cam Heyward, the 2011 first-round pick, seems destined to become a starter no later than next season. But if the Steelers need to replace Keisel and Hood next season — it is unlikely Hood returns unless his play improves appreciably — that defensive line could have a dramatically new look in 2014.

The other backup, Al Woods, hasn't played much, and seventh-round draft choice Nick Williams is a project who probably won't be ready by next season.

Keisel, a starter since 2006, is making $4.5 million in the final season of his contract. If he returns next season, he might have to take a Hampton-like pay cut — though, for now, he doesn't have any idea whether he will retire or keep playing.

He prefers to remain with the Steelers, the only team he's known. But even if he decides to come back, the Steelers would have to decide if they could risk bringing back a player at such an advanced age — he would be 36 — or whether they would be better moving on, as they did along the offensive line by not bringing back Max Starks and Willie Colon.

“That's a question I'll be able to answer later,” Keisel said of possibly playing elsewhere. “Right now, I'm still part of this great organization and still enjoy these men and going out and competing with these men.”

Keisel appears to be leaning toward playing in 2014. He is coming off one of his best seasons in 2012, with 58 tackles — his career high is 63 — and 4 12 of his 25 career sacks.

“I still feel really good, even out here in training camp, and I feel I can compete at a very high level,” Keisel said.

“And as long as I do that, I want to continue to play. We'll just see what happens.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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