Essex in shape and with new outlook

Trai Essex walked off the practice field on Tuesday dripping with sweat and looking a bit tired.

In other words, he was feeling great.

"This is the first time I have practiced since February," said Essex. "I am happy to be back."

The Steelers re-signed the veteran free agent on Monday after he spent training camp without a team and in a world of uncertainty, not knowing what his future would hold.

"It was stressful," said Essex. "This is all I have known for the last 10 or 11 years, football."

While his teammates were in training camp, Essex was splitting his time between Pittsburgh and Arizona where he was working out. And while he was focused on getting back with a team, his heart was with the Steelers the entire time.

"I kept up on the team," said Essex. "This has been my home for six years. The Steelers and Pittsburgh have been my home no matter what. I was seeing how they were doing, how Willie (Colon) has been doing bouncing back from injuries.

"The toughest part was the first preseason game and not being a part of that. It was an eye-opener. I never experienced that before. It gave me a kick of reality and let me know I have to work harder."

What Essex had to do was get himself back into shape so that the Steelers, or another team, would want to sign him. Steelers' coaches had seen Essex at Ben Roethlisberger's July wedding and he knows they weren't happy with what they saw.

"I was at Ben's wedding and was overweight," said Essex. "They saw me then, they see me now. They see there is a difference now. This wouldn't have happened if I didn't put the work in."

Essex didn't say how much weight he lost, although he did offer a little hint.

"It's a lot," said Essex, who joked it's somewhere between guard and tackle weight since his role has yet to be defined. "I can't put a number on it, but a significant amount. It's a couple of newborn babies.

"I have a new lease on life and I want to make it work. I had to change some things, my eating habits, workout habits, being more of a professional. The Steelers brought me back and I am forever grateful to them. I am in a situation where I can change some beliefs they may have about me and rectify them and I plan on doing that. I am willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of the Steelers organization."

Roethlisberger was one of the many players happy to have Essex back on the field today.

"I have talked to him frequently the last month," said Roethlisberger. "I told him you have to come in here and be focused. I can hear it in his voice when he tells me I am ready.

"When it comes down to it Trai is a good football player. I have faith in him, whatever position he plays. He is valuable. He can play all five spots. He is a guy who has been in the fire, played in a lot of games and has been all over the place. I have a lot of faith in him. I am glad he is back."

Not nearly as happy as Essex though.

"It felt like I was home," said Essex of walking into the locker room. "It's something you don't miss until it's gone. I missed the locker room camaraderie and the guys. That was one of the biggest things I missed. I am fortunate to be back."

When Lawrence Timmons signed his new contract, he wasn't the only one celebrating that the young linebacker would remain in black and gold for the next six years.

Roethlisberger is among those on offense who relish the fact that they will have Timmons as a teammate, and not as an opposing linebacker.

"It means he isn't on another team," said Roethlisberger. "We are happy for him that he is going to be here long-term."

Timmons is the latest on the Steelers defense to sign a long-term deal, joining fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley and cornerback Ike Taylor. It was what he was hoping for and now, he just wants to focus on football.

"It's good just to be locked up with this team for the next six years," said Timmons. "It's a great thing. I couldn't be a part of a better organization. It's definitely a stress reliever. It's not a good feeling to think about not being here. I am glad I am here for a while. Now I can just go out and play ball."

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