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Steelers Brett Keisel is accepting new role of team elder

While the Beard has become a significant part of the face of the franchise since 2006, his veteran voice is taking on an even more important role in the twilight of his career.

Nick Laham

As TribLive's Alan Robinson points out, at the age of 34 Brett Keisel is now the eldest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive unit.

"It's weird to be the old guy on the block."

Keisel became the most senior citizen when James Harrison was released prior to the beginning of free-agency in March. Keisel, who will turn 35 in September, has been a defensive leader for several years and was named defensive captain in 2012.

He understands the responsibilities which fall on him due to his NFL "age", and is accepting his new roles as mentor and on-field coach to the younger men entering the NFL, who may or may not eventually replace him.

"They're coming from 4-3s, and they basically have to forget everything they've been taught through college and start fresh. It's hard because you're used to doing things one way and you have to switch your stance up and what not. But they're doing it."

Such transitions are often the case as 4-3 defensive alignments are still used in the majority of collegiate programs. Making the situation in Pittsburgh even more difficult are the complex schemes of coordinator Dick LeBeau, which requires defensive linemen to do more than rush passers and tackle ball carriers.

Keisel made the same transition himself long ago, eventually replacing Kimo Von Oelhoffen following the 2005 Super Bowl Championship season, after joining Pittsburgh as a seventh-round draft pick in 2002. In 2013, he will be working with this year's seventh rounder Nicholas Williams, veteran Al Woods and undrafted rookies Brian Arnfelt and Cordian Hagans.

Few expect the Steelers to re-sign Keisel following this season, as it is the last year on his contract. Keisel has already been working with former first-round picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, who could be the team's starting ends for the next few years should they live up to team expectations and earn contract extensions. While some have been disappointed with the progressions of Hood and Heyward, they cannot ask for a better role model than Keisel who has continued to retain his starting job through performance over players with higher draft rankings.

The Beard may be showing a few more tinges of gray, but his warrior's heart continues to beat just as strongly as it ever has with no regard for his age. If Keisel passes on nothing more than his drive, desire and passion for Steelers football, his tutelage will pay dividends in the long run.

Not to mention, if the old man can play like a younger version of himself one more time, he may just earn another championship ring for himself, and his pupil-teammates.