STEELERS DAY 1 CAMP REPORT
By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — Brett Keisel certainly knows how to make an entrance.
The 12th-year defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers arrived at training camp Friday driving a huge dump truck, saying that the Saint Vincent College campus was like a construction zone. He dumped his luggage in the grass before addressing the media.
“I brought my hard hat,” Keisel said. “We’re constructing our team, (and) we’re excited about this year. I think everyone’s written us off, but we feel like we can construct, hopefully, a championship team. And that’s why I brought the big, bad boy today.”
A nearby company lends the truck to Keisel, and he drives a couple miles to campus before returning the vehicle. He arrived in a tractor a couple years ago, but wanted to make a huge entrance in what could be his final Steelers season.
“You know, I just want to enjoy this year,” Keisel said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with everything, but this is the last year on my contract. So, I’m going to go out and give it my all and have fun and see what happens. If it is the end, I want to go out on top.
“(But) I want to go out on top even if it’s not the end. With 12 seasons in the NFL, that’s pretty good, especially when you deal with a great organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’ve brought a couple trophies home, but we want to bring another one home.”
The Steelers will have four new starters on offense and three on defense, so Keisel rightfully pointed out that a lot of young guys will need to step up for the club to make a long playoff run. There will be a lot of competition at running back, right outside linebacker and wide receiver where starters must be replaced. Linebacker Jarvis Jones and running back Le’Veon Bell, rookie first- and second-round picks, respectively, could end up starting at their positions.
“I just want to come in here and compete, whatever role that I get, I’m just going to do the very best that I can at that role,” Bell said. “Whether that’s being the starter or coming in on third downs or on special teams. I want to succeed in that role and help this team win football games.”
Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are the top Steelers wideouts, while Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress are battling for playing time as the third and fourth receivers after starter Mike Wallace left in free agency. Burress looks for an expanded role after returning last year to the club that drafted him 12 seasons ago.
“I’m glad to be here in training camp with a chance to compete with all the good players we have at wide receiver,” Burress said. “Antonio deserves his spot as the No. 1 guy. We lost a guy who could stretch the field and make big plays, but I really feel like Emmanuel is going to have a breakout season.
“And Jerricho, he’s one of the most consistent receivers that I’ve been around. He’s tough over the middle. (And) my job is to come out here and compete, but my makeup is to come into camp and become a starter. If you’re not a starter, you should have the mindset to become one. (And) since I have that mindset, I know that I will give my best every day.”
Sanders is signed for just this season, and the fourth-year wideout said the Steelers have not yet approached him about working out a long-term contract.
“At the end of the day, the contract will work itself out,” Sanders said. “I’m more concerned about playing football right now.”
There was one recent offseason distraction, as center Maurkice Pouncey, and his twin brother, Mike of the Miami Dolphins, were photographed wearing caps that said “Free Hernandez, to support their former University of Florida teammate, Aaron Hernandez. A former star tight end with the New England Patriots, Hernandez has been charged with murder in Massachusetts, which prompted the Patriots to release him.
Pouncey previously apologized in a written statement.
“You know what, man, I understand it was a serious situation,” Pouncey said. “I apologized if I offended anybody. I’m here to play football, (so) let’s move off from that. I know I took a lot of heat for it and I probably should have. I understand what happened and it’s pretty cool now, let things blow away.”
Pouncey said Tomlin has talked to him about it, but he would not say if he has talked to Hernandez, who was granted $500,000 bail today to be released from jail. Pouncey said that was between him and Hernandez.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke with Pouncey about the incident, but neither would reveal what was said between the two. Tomlin also conducted his annual run test to begin camp and said: “We had a really good, productive run test. I liked the overall level of conditioning and readiness of the men.”
Tomlin said that everyone ran the test except four players who will begin camp on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list. That group includes three players coming off surgeries: tight end Heath Miller (right knee), tight end David Johnson (right knee) and linebacker Sean Spence (left knee). Also, nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu suffered a hamstring injury prior to camp “that’s going to have him out a number of days,” Tomlin said.
It did not appear that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ran. Tomlin was not aware if he did, and he did not know why left offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert was carted off the field after completing his run test. On a positive note, right offensive tackle Mike Adams received full medical clearance to run and practice after being stabbed in a late-night incident early in June.
Adams said that he has begun working out again after missing about a month after the stabbing, but he’s ready to go. Roethlisberger did not speak with the media Friday, but Tomlin discussed his situation. The quarterback had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in mid-June.
“He’s got a little discomfort, but that’s not going to stop him from doing what it is that he needs to do,” Tomlin said. “The nature of his position is not one that requires a great deal of running, so it’s less of an issue for us and more of a personal issue, probably, for him. But he’ll be fine.”
Tomlin added that the discomfort was not a setback for Roethlisberger. Tomlin also noted that he officially entered the social media world on Twitter. He didn’t know how many followers he had, but Tomlin believed it would be exciting.
“We spend a lot of time talking to our guys about what to do and what not to do, (so) I thought it would be appropriate and timely for me to show them,” Tomlin said. “I’ll see if I can do it in a professional manner. (And) my kids are getting to the point in their life where I need to educate myself about it largely anyway, so I’m killing a couple birds with the same stone. … Follow me. (But) I’m not going to follow you back.”