The Steelers begin voluntary workouts Monday, but one player’s been anxiously roaming the halls of the team’s practice facilities since the middle of February.
That’s because defensive end Brett Keisel can’t wait to showcase his linebacker skills at the April 20 minicamp.
The Steelers, because they have a new coach, have been granted an extra minicamp by the league, and they’ve scheduled it the week before the draft in order to look over some players at new positions.
Keisel is one of them He’ll get a chance to play outside linebacker.
“Coach (Dick) LeBeau has come to me and told me we’re going to do some different things, maybe similar to what Baltimore does with Adalius Thomas or something like that,” Keisel said of the former 270-pound linebacker in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense.
Keisel played at 285 pounds last season and said he’d like to get down to 280 before April 20.
“I’ve asked them what to do about my weight and they’ve said, ‘Just do what you do,”’ he said. “So I have made it a goal to slim down a little bit, and then if things work out, where I’m just in the trenches with Casey (Hampton) and Aaron (Smith), then that time in between minicamp and training camp I’ll be able to stack it back up. But for now I’m going to lighten up a little bit.”
His take on the opportunity?
“I would love that. I would love that,” Keisel said. “I think I could do it. For three years now I’ve had to know it all, but I’ve never gotten the opportunity to do it in a game. I’ve practiced it and repped it out on the practice field, but I’ve never had an opportunity to do something in a game, so I hope so.”
Another experiment the Steelers will monitor is the move of right guard Kendall Simmons to center.
The team opened preliminary contract-extension talks with Simmons, Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu, but are wary of becoming too involved with Simmons until he shows better potential at center than he has at guard.
The Steelers have had difficulty against teams with powerful defensive tackles across from Simmons because he’s more agile than strong. The team believes that agility could be put to better use at center, as it was with Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings.
Of course, the Steelers signed free agent Sean Mahan to a $17.5 million contract just in case the move of Simmons doesn’t work. Last preseason, Simmons struggled with the shotgun snap but the team believes a full offseason at the position should correct the problem.
Unlike the Steelers’ stance with right tackle Max Starks -- who’s also entering the final season of his contract -- the team opened preliminary talks with Simmons because of the brewing problem at guard. Not only are the two starters entering their final contract seasons, but backup Chris Kemoeatu has yet to display an understanding of the offensive system, and the situation could only worsen for the third-year pro after new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians installs his changes.
The Steelers prefer a big, strong guard, such as Kemoeatu, and that’s why Mahan, a 301-pounder, would only be considered a stop-gap measure should Simmons win the job at center.
As for Starks, he’ll remain on the open market as a restricted free agent until April 20. Should another team sign him away, the Steelers would be compensated with a first-round draft pick. If not, the Steelers will gauge Starks’s physical condition at the minicamp.
According to a source with the team, if Starks is in shape, talks will begin on a contract extension. But if Starks reports close to the 400 pounds at which he reported last spring, the Steelers will let him play out his current contract.
The Steelers may still talk to free-agent punter Matt Turk, the brother of former Steeler Dan Turk, but all talks were put on hold last week as Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert hit the pro-day trail.
On Tuesday, Tomlin showed up at Arkansas to watch DE Jamaal Anderson and CB Chris Houston; on Wednesday, he watched WRs Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis at LSU; on Thursday, Tomlin appeared at Florida State to see OLB Lawrence Timmons; and on Friday, he showed up at Michigan to watch the workouts of first-day prospects CB Leon Hall. DT Alan Branch, ILB David Harris, and DE LaMarr Woodley.
The most telling appearance may have been the one at Florida State, where Tomlin was the only NFL head coach. He drew the attention of Timmons’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who was overheard telling Tomlin that his client would “be in better shape by minicamp,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Timmons measured 6-0 7/8 at the combine and weighed 234 pounds. He ran a 4.66 40 at the combine and didn’t improve upon the time at his pro day.