Steelers' Colon makes long-awaited return
Sitting at his locker with his helmet on his lap, Willie Colon didn't worry who might have been watching.
The burly 6-foot-3, 315-pound right tackle picked up his scuffed helmet and firmly planted his lips on it.
"I missed it," Colon said.
After being sidelined 402 days, including a whirlwind free-agency period during which he almost left the Steelers, Colon was back on the field for the first time Thursday since tearing his Achilles last June.
"It felt good to finally be out there," said Colon, who had to sit out the first week of camp because of a hang-up with the new CBA. "I hit the field like it was the first day of camp."
Colon took less money to stay with the Steelers. With the releases of veteran tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams, he is now the most experienced lineman on the roster.
"He is a physical presence, and he's a team player," offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. "Everything you look for in a lineman, that guy has got. Those guys look up to him. He is the leader of that room."
Colon solidified that leadership, in part, by starting 50 consecutive games at right tackle before his injury and by being battled-tested in the biggest games. But he won over plenty of his current linemates with what he did last year while injured.
Instead of rehabbing his surgically repaired leg somewhere else, Colon choose to stay around the team during the season to work with team doctors.
With Colon around, Kugler asked him to help, making him responsible for presenting the offensive line with a scouting report on that week's opponent.
"We called it the Willie Colon Report," guard Ramon Foster said. "He did it every week and never slacked off on it. He gave us a lot of insight of the opponents we were going against. He was very in tune what was going on all last year."
Colon's written report detailed the defensive front and linebackers, and he offered his assessment to his teammates every Wednesday.
Kugler felt it was a good way to keep Colon's mind off his injury and on football.
"I wanted Willie to be part of the room and keep him involved but in a serious way," Kugler said. "I wanted to give him a responsibility. The other reason was that it was a real young room, and to have him be able to mentor some of these young guys was a good thing.
"You could tell that he put his heart into it and spent a lot of time. The young guys hung on every word, and it was very beneficial. I think it really helped Willie feel that he was part of the group."
Colon said all the film work will allow him to prepare better this season. And he said he actually enjoyed doing it.
"Yeah, up to Week 6, then I wanted to play," Colon said. "I wanted to be out there on the field."
Even the veterans took notice.
"For him to give us that amount of effort last year, it speaks volumes on what he's going to do this year," tackle Jonathan Scott said.