The Pittsburgh Steelers are planning to re-sign defensive end Brett Keisel to bolster a reconfigured line that has struggled to produce much of anything in the first two weeks of the preseason.
Keisel posted on his Twitter feed Tuesday "I am very excited to finish what I started in 2002 with the @steelers. Time to get to work!! #SteelerNation #DaBeardNation"
The Steelers decided not to re-sign Keisel in the offseason after the 35-year-old finished with four sacks in 12 games in 2013. Pittsburgh drafted Stephon Tuitt in the second round and signed Cam Thomas as a free agent as part of a youth movement along an aging defense.
While Tuitt has been solid during preseason, Thomas has yet to make an impact.
Keisel, who turns 36 on Sept. 19, was effective when healthy last season. But with the team up against the salary cap he wasn’t going to command anywhere near the $4.9 million cap number he received last year.
It’s unclear how much of a pay cut Keisel will receive, though the Steelers have a little money to play with after signing kicker Shaun Suisham and right tackle Marcus Gilbert to new contracts during training camp.
The Steelers are trying to restore some of the luster to a defense that finished 13th in total yards in 2013 — the unit’s lowest ranking this millennium.
Though rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier put together a remarkable debut in a win over Buffalo last weekend — racking up 11 total tackles and an interception in barely a half of work — the rest of the defense has been so-so so far.
The Steelers allowed a 73-yard touchdown run to New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings and let the Buffalo starters roll up 212 yards (but no touchdowns) last weekend.
Where Keisel might fit into defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s plans remain unclear. He’ll join a crowded, but disjointed situation along the line. Cam Heyward will start at one end in LeBeau’s intricate 3-4 scheme, but no player has distinguished himself at the other end.
That leaves plenty of room for Keisel to get back to the spot where he helped the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl victories. He became a fan favorite later in his career, growing a thick beard each year then shaving it off when the season was over for charity.
He parlayed the beard into a line of salsa and his "Shear The Beard" event became a highlight on the social calendar in Pittsburgh.
The only thing Keisel is concerned about now, however, is getting a team looking to shake off consecutive 8-8 seasons back to the playoffs.
"There’s no place like home," Keisel tweeted while announcing his return.