Firing up the Diesel

June 1, 2006

A big pay day hasn't changed the Pittsburgh Steelers new starting right defensive end. In fact, Brett Keisel is simply picking up where former starter Kimo von Oelhoffen, now with the New York Jets, left off.

It wasn’t like Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel hit the lottery or anything this spring. But the 27-year-old Keisel did find himself in a new tax bracket.

Keisel signed a four-year, $13.1-million deal to stay with the Steelers this spring that included a $3.29-million signing bonus.

The flannel-wearing, pickup-driving Keisel has taken some kidding from his teammates, hearing such things as “Big Money” and “New Money,” but it’s not as if he hasn’t paid his dues in working his way up from a former seventh-round draft pick to starting defensive end.

Just don’t expect Keisel to now start taking anything for granted.

“It’s way different,” said Keisel of his first mini-camp and voluntary workouts as a starter. “When you’re a backup, you’re always kind of on the backburner. You’re always watching the guy in front of you and trying to watch what he does and trying to learn from what he does. Now I’m trying to set an example and show what’s expected.”

It’s something he learned watching Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen for the previous four seasons.

Now, he replaces von Oelhoffen in the starting lineup and takes on some of that role as a teacher for the team’s younger players.

He doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s embraced the idea.

“Kimo’s a stud,” said Keisel. “He taught me a lot about this position and this game and about how to play defensive line here and I really appreciate him.”

That’s why it was difficult for both men when the Steelers were negotiating with both during this offseason. Von Oelhoffen signed with the New York Jets and seemingly minutes later, the Steelers announced they had agreed to a deal with Keisel.

“I don’t know what they were offering Kimo, but I talked to him that day, we were talking back and forth to see what was going on,” Keisel said. “He called me and said, “Hey man, I’m going to be a Jet.” I kind of had an idea that was going to happen.”

That ended what was an extremely tough time for Keisel.

“It was really stressful up to that point because I wanted to stay here, but you just didn’t know with the collective bargaining agreement the way it was and the way they kept on pushing things back,” he said. “It was making it that much worse. When (Steelers negotiator) Omar (Khan) called me and we got on a conference call and we all came to agreement on this thing, I hung up the phone and I was just like, ‘Man, I can’t believe it. This is what I worked so hard for, just to get this opportunity. Now it’s time to get to work and prove it.’”

Just don’t expect anything too flashy from the always humble Keisel.

In fact, he hasn’t even really spent much of his new-found wealth yet.

“I’ve done some remodeling on my house, but I haven’t done anything extravagant yet, which is pretty boring,” Keisel said. “I may go out and get a new ride or something like that, well see.”

And the league is going to see why the Steelers felt so comfortable giving a player who has never before started an NFL game more than $13 million.

“There’s a little more pressure, but that’s what this game is about,” Keisel said. “There’s pressure every time you step on the field, even with special teams. If you don’t do your job, it’s going to show up on tape and it’s going to show up on the field. So there’s pressure every time. We’re used to playing with pressure.”