By Teresa Varley
Brett Keisel was hot and sweaty after practice at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. He had an ace bandage holding a bag of ice on his calf. He looked tired.
It was the perfect end to the day for him.
"It feels so good. I love being with my brothers out there," said Keisel, the Steelers starting right defensive end. "To be able to go out there and work and be with my friends and feel like you are a part of something again instead of being on the side. It makes all of the difference in the world. That's why you work so hard to get back."
Keisel is slated to return to the starting lineup on Sunday against the Bengals after a frustrating calf strain forced him to miss the last three games. He is more than ready to get back in action.
"Honestly, to this day I think someone had a bean-bag gun that was camouflaged as grass so the refs couldn't see it and shot me in the calf," joked Keisel. "It was a non-contact injury. I was coming out of my stance. It was strange, but it's one of those things you can't control. The training staff did a really good job of getting me back. I am able to come back earlier than what people anticipated.
"I feel great now. I feel excited to get back into a game situation this week. That is going to be the biggest test. You can try and simulate the speed in practice, but it is not close to game speed. I am excited to see what it's like on Sunday."
Keisel is one of those players who absolutely hates being on the sidelines. It ate at him to not be able to practice and be on the field with his teammates on game day.
"It was really hard," said Keisel. "You feel helpless. I hate being hurt. I hope I am never hurt again. You can only lift so many weights in a day. I would lift and go out and watch practice for a bit, get upset and come in here, throw some ice on my calf and go home."
The only thing that saved him was the Steelers were winning during the time he was out, taking away some of that pain.
"I thought Travis (Kirschke), (Chris) Hoke, Orpheus (Roye) and Nick (Eason) really played incredible," said Keisel. "I was proud of the way those guys stepped up their game and came in and played and played to win. I have all of the confidence in the world in all of the guys we have in our defensive line room. Those guys can start for a lot of teams in this league. We are fortunate to have quality guys that are ready to come in and play at a high level like they are."
Not bad for a group that was called an "aging defensive line" by many before the season started.
"It did bug me to hear people say that, it bugged me a lot because I feel like as a unit up front we are one of the best in the league," said Keisel. "To pinpoint us and say we can't play at as high a level as we used to wasn't right. I think each year we are getting better. I think we play together as good as anyone in the league."
On many teams if two starters like Keisel and Casey Hampton went down to injuries a veteran would have to be signed from outside to bolster the position. But the Steelers were able to find the answer within, from a bunch of guys some had written off.
"What happened to Casey and I showed how important it is to have quality guys that are ready to play at any time," said Keisel. "I am proud of our guys and the organization for keeping us intact. Not only are we great competitors on the field, but we are all really good friends and it makes coming to work fun. We are going to keep riding the ship and getting better."
And he plans on riding that ship for some time to come.
"I think I still have another good seven years in me," said the 30-year old Keisel. "I am excited about this season and the position we are in. Let's rock and roll."