Brett Keisel (99) looks at the scoreboard during the third quarter of a game against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field last year. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH — Newly re-signed defensive end Brett Keisel turns 36 next month.
But the wily veteran doesn’t think he is slowing down, despite entering his 13th season with Steelers and being the oldest player on the team.
“I’m 26 at heart,” Keisel said, smiling. “I don’t feel old. My body feels good. I feel like I still have a lot of good football left and I think they do, too.
“I know the age is always looked at in the NFL, and it’s a big thing, and this team is getting younger — we have a lot of great young prospects.
“I look forward to getting in there and restoring things. I look forward to helping those men and getting out there and bleeding with those guys.”
Keisel, 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, said he didn’t agree to a two-year, $3 million contract Wednesday to rejoin the Steelers just to be a cheerleader on the sideline or a seldom-used backup.
“I want to play my best ball and if that’s good enough to be a starter, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Keisel, one of 12 players on the Steelers’ roster who is 30 or older. “I want to play. I really don’t think they brought me back just to teach these guys everything and try to teach them the little things that make you a good defensive lineman.
“I think they brought me back to help and to help lead. I look forward to doing that.”
Keisel, an unrestricted free agent, had been the starter at right end for the Steelers the past eight seasons, but they elected not to re-sign him after the 2013 season.
He continued to hold out hope the Steelers would offer him another contract, even after training camp ended earlier this month and they did.
Keisel suited up for the ugly 31-21 preseason loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia three nights ago, but he did not play. He is expected to make his debut Thursday in the Steelers’ final preseason game against the Panthers at Heinz Field.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he’s still not sure what Keisel’s role will be in the team’s defensive line rotation.
“Obviously, Brett is a capable NFL lineman and we’ve been in continual communication with him,” Tomlin said. “I’m glad to have him back in the fold. We’ll hammer (his role) out as we get him up to speed in terms of game readiness. He’s in great shape. We’ll see what the football looks like.”
Cam Heyward moved to right end in Keisel’s absence. Offseason acquisition Cam Thomas started at left end against the Eagles Thursday, who bullied the Steelers’ first-team defense to the tune of 372 yards overall, including 182 rushing, and 31 points in three quarters.
Heyward could shift back to left end once Keisel gets up to speed on the right side.
“I’m very happy he’s back,” Heyward said. “He’s a great team leader, provides more depth for us. He’s going to give advice to me and all the other guys.
“It never hurts to have another guy of his stature in the locker room.”
Keisel flew to Arizona Tuesday to meet with the Cardinals and coach Bruce Arians, a former Steelers assistant. He promised Keisel a starting job, but once the Steelers called, he promptly returned to Pittsburgh.
He credited his family with a big assist in his decision to re-sign with the Steelers.
“It really was my wife and kids,” said Keisel, a seventh-round draft pick from Brigham Young in 2002 who has played in three Super Bowls with the Steelers and earned two rings. “They took me to the airport (to fly to Arizona) and my kids were looking at me with little doe eyes and wondering what’s going on and where are you going and how long are you going to be gone.
“Going to the airport with them really put things into perspective for me. I’m just grateful that Mr. (Dan) Rooney, (general manager) Kevin (Colbert) and coach Tomlin all helped work something out to finish where I started.
“I’m really excited to finish what I started here with the Steelers.”