The closer you are, the tougher it is

Roosevelt Nix sat at his locker on Monday, quietly staring at nothing in particular. He didn't have to speak for his emotions to be known. Normally a player you can hear laughing and joking above others, his silence spoke volumes.

It's because Nix knows that those gathered in the locker room with him as the team put the finishing touches on the 2016 season wouldn't be the same group that gathers in a few months for offseason workouts. There will be some free agent additions, and there will be free agents who don't return. There will be a new rookie class, and there will be players who aren't brought back.

"It's a business and the chance of this team being the same is slim to none," said Nix. "It stinks to be that close, especially when some people have played for a long time and have never gotten this close.

"You put so much into it. The season is long, but it goes by so fast. It hits you where it hurts."

What hurts even more, though, is that these aren't just teammates that came this close to their dream of winning a Super Bowl, cut short when the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

These are friends, brothers, family.  

"This team was really close," said Xavier Grimble. "We really gelled together at the right time. There were points of the season where there were questions about the defense, receivers with injuries, and the tight ends. There were a lot of questions and I think we did a good job of answering.

"That brought us together even more. We leaned on each other and didn't worry about what was being said on the outside, we just worried about what we can control here. We were here for each other all the time.

"It's tough. Each year in some way, shape or form the team changes. There are always going to be changes. Being as close as we are, fighting through the things we fought through from training camp until now, losing in the fashion we did it hurts because of how close we were to our goal, and how close we are as a group. We lost as a team, we fought as a team."

The good news is, there will be plenty of players back. There is a strong nucleus on the team, one filled with the leadership that brings the family bond to the locker room. From players like Maurkice Pouncey who has not just offensive linemen over for dinner and watching film on a weekly basis, but anybody who wants to come, to Mike Mitchell who has taken rookie Sean Davis under his wing, helping him every step of the way. Those are just a few of the many examples of the leadership and the close bond that exists and will continue to flourish to help this team take that one last step.

"We have the leadership," said Darrius Heyward-Bey. "We have the talent. We have the brotherhood. I think the core will stay. It's football, it's the NFL, things will change, and there will be different faces.

"It's definitely an unselfish team. Everyone on offense and defense worked together. I think the core will be here and buy into what we are trying to do.

"We are a tough group. We are a close group. We will bounce back."

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