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OT Colon happy to be back at work for Steelers

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LATROBE, Pa. (AP)

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin turned toward practice field No. 2 at Saint Vincent College just before 5 p.m. on Thursday and yelled ''suit'em up!''

And just like that, offensive tackle Willie Colon went back to work.

While fellow lineman Doug Legursky sprinted to grab his helmet and shoulder pads - singing Aerosmith's ''Back in the Saddle'' as he did it - Colon took his time. He ran his hand through his braids and slowly made his way to his spot in the stretching line with the rest of his teammates.

The 28-year-old Colon and other free agents across the league were finally allowed to practice Thursday when the NFL lockout officially ended after the NFL Players Association ratified the new collective bargaining agreement with owners, ending 4 1/2 months of posturing, negotiating and uncertainty.

Colon's wait was longer. Much longer. He hadn't hit someone in more than 13 months and wondered if he'd ever be the same after tearing the Achilles' tendon in his right leg in June 2010.

His journey back to the field has been arduous at best and frustrating at worst. It's why he didn't race over to the rest of his teammates. He wanted 30 seconds to appreciate the start of the rest of his football life.

''I've been ready for this,'' Colon said. ''I know how hard I worked.''

Even if Colon wasn't exactly thrilled with the circumstances.

As anxious as he was to start earning the five-year, $29-million deal he signed last week, he wasn't so eager that he was going to rubber-stamp the CBA. Colon voted against ratifying the new deal.

He was joined by several other members of the defending AFC champions who were concerned about the way the negotiations were handled and the autonomy NFL commissioner Roger Goodell maintained when it came to doling out player discipline.

''We felt like it was getting shoved down our throats,'' Colon said. ''Our player (representative) wasn't comfortable with it. We're a strong locker room. We've been through too much. We're not going to just file it away the way other teams do. We do what we want, we make our own rooms and we said `no.'''

Pittsburgh player rep Ryan Clark declined to confirm whether the team voted as a whole against the new CBA, as did quarterback Charlie Batch, a member of the NFLPA's executive committee.

Still, Clark acknowledged the team had issues with Goodell's ability to serve as judge and jury when it came to handing out punishment for illegal hits. The Steelers were a favorite target last season, with linebacker James Harrison fined four times by the league for illegal contact.

''Everybody makes a big deal like we're always whining and crying, but we're most effected,'' Clark said. ''It's the way we play football. It's the style of play. We want to play physical and it does affect you in some type of way.''

There were some givebacks by the league this week. Under the new CBA, the NFLPA must be consulted before a player is suspended or fined more than $50,000. And players now will be able to argue on appeal that a fine is excessive if it exceeds 25 percent of one week's pay for a first offense or 50 percent of a week's pay for a second offense.

''Hopefully guys won't have to worry about so much money getting taken out of their pockets,'' Clark said.

As an offensive lineman, Colon will most likely avoid the commissioner's wrath, which is fine by him. After spending so much time watching instead of playing, he's ready to deliver some of his own.

He joked he would ''spare the rod for no one'' during his first practice. He wasted little time mixing it up with the second-team defensive line and says his right leg felt fine.

''I really didn't feel like I'm missing a step,'' he said. ''I've got to fine tune some stuff and be ready to go.''

If Pittsburgh is going return to the Super Bowl, he doesn't really have a choice. The offensive line is already without veterans Max Starks and Flozell Adams, released in cost-cutting moves last week.

That leaves Colon and Chris Kemoeatu as the longest-tenured lineman. Kemoeatu is nursing fluid on his right knee and is on the physically unable to perform list, leaving it up to Colon to give some stability to a line in flux.

It's a role he's embraced. He believes he's a better student of the game now after offensive line coach Sean Kruger made him put together a scouting report each week last year in hopes of keeping him engaged.

Still, he just laughed when asked if this means he's ready to get into coaching.

''My job right now is to be the best right tackle in the league,'' Colon said. ''That means executing, playing hard and being able to rock and roll when the time comes ... My focus is on right tackle. I don't want to put nothing on a chalkboard. Nothing.''

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Follow AP Sports Writer Will Graves on twitter at twitter.com/WillGravesAP. AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

Tagged: Steelers, Ryan Clark, Willie Colon

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