OT Colon happy to be back at work for Steelers

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.”

Follow AP Sports Writer Will Graves on twitter at

twitter.com/WillGravesAP. AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich

contributed to this report.