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Veteran Keisel settles into role with Steelers

| Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, 8:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel eludes the Carolina Panthers' Amini Silatolu on a pass rush during the first quarter Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Steelers defender Brett Keisel applies pressure against the Panthers on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2014, at Heinz Field.

Amid the groans of a restless crowd at Heinz Field, veteran defensive end Brett Keisel was among the few to shine in a preseason finale that portends little or nothing about the Steelers' prospects in 2014.

Yet, a grateful and energized Keisel unearthed hope after the team's disjointed performance in a 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

Keisel, in his 13th season with the Steelers, was encouraged by the play of the team's rookie defensive linemen — including ends Stephon Tuitt and undrafted Josh Mauro, and nose tackle Daniel McCullers — all of whom he expects to survive the final cut or earn a spot on the practice squad.

“We have potential, but we have to make sure that we're putting the team first,” said Keisel, who replaced Cam Heyward in the starting lineup. “It's all about moving forward. It's all about winning.

“We've all got to get back to work, and we don't have time to congratulate each other for making the team. The AFC (Cleveland Browns) is coming into our house (for the season opener), and we have to be ready.”

Keisel, who re-signed with the Steelers two weeks ago, is convinced Tuitt can be productive his rookie season. It's why he's spent much of the past week tutoring the Steelers' second pick of the NFL Draft.

“(Tuitt) just needs to come to work every day and put his hard hat on,” said Keisel, who was credited with breaking up a pass. “He can never be satisfied because there's something you can always learn — even me being 13 years in this league. He needs to get in line and get ready to go.”

Clearly, the Steelers are convinced Keisel has enough fuel in his tank to ignite a defensive front that had been inconsistent throughout the preseason. More importantly, he will be counted on to help develop a young defensive front.

“Brett is a great motivator, and there's no doubt he impacts what we were trying to do defensively,” defensive end Cam Thomas said. “He understands the game, so everyone is picking his brain because he has a unique point of view with this defense because he's been in it so long.”

“I don't think you can gauge what Brett means to the defense,” said Heyward, who sat out Thursday's game. “He's constantly reminding us that we can't hold back. We're not a finished product, but we've gotten better each week.”

Keisel said it's been a day-to-day process getting whipped into game shape since the Steelers re-signed him last week.

“It was good getting back out there,” he said. “There were some good plays and some bad plays.”

The same can be said about the defense as a whole, particularly against the run. For the first time this preseason, the Steelers didn't give up any big runs, in part, because the defensive front held its own in the trenches.

The Panthers averaged only 2.9 yards on 35 rushing attempts. And three times the Steelers flexed their muscles on third-and-short runs to thwart Carolina drives.

“You have to address the things that have hurt you in the preseason,” Keisel said. “At the same time, everyone has a fresh start.”

Keisel, who missed all of training camp at St. Vincent, wasn't eager to grade his performance. But he figures a B-minus is about right, considering he hadn't played since last season's finale against Cleveland on Dec. 29.

“I was about average,” he said. “I've got some work to do, but it was nice to get there and get my feet wet.

“I love playing this game. I love everything that comes with being a Steeler. There were a lot of questions of whether I would have an opportunity to do this again.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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