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Analyzing the decision to keep Cam Thomas over Brett Keisel

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The Steelers released veteran DE Brett Keisel and, as of the remaining few hours before the start of free agency, kept Cam Thomas. It's a move that will likely anger much of Steeler Nation, but it makes sense looking at the entire group.

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Ed Bouchette spoke of elephants in the room when referring to the decision the team needs to make regarding Troy Polamalu.

A much smaller elephant, but one who will make far more noise among Steeler Nation in 2015, is the (presumed) decision to keep Cam Thomas over Brett Keisel.

The team had a decision to make, and their two options as far as depth along its defensive line were Keisel, the veteran coming off a triceps tear and about to turn 37 years old, and Thomas, the younger, less-injured and unspectacular signee from last year's free agency class.

There are risks and issues with both decisions, and the most likely reason the team has - for now - elected to keep Thomas over Keisel is due to injury. When those tendons start to tear, they're at a much higher risk of recurring injury. Just ask Willie Colon or Levi Brown.

This doesn't mean Thomas will see an increase in playing time. Based on the elevated level of growth shown by Stephon Tuitt in his second year, if anyone's snap total will increase, it will be his.

Second on that list would be his draft classmate, Dan McCullers. Shade Tree played both defensive end and nose tackle his rookie year, not logging many snaps but showing enough in that time to think, with another good offseason of work and coaching, he could handle the team's utility defensive lineman role.

With Steve McLendon entering the final year of his contract, The team may want McCullers to serve and work as the team's back-up zero technique, but his length makes him an attractive candidate to put on the edge. Heyward has already made an outstanding career by rushing the passer from an inside position on passing downs, and having another capable end to bracket Heyward and perhaps even Tuitt on the inside is an attractive option.

It's possible, if not likely, the team uses McCullers in a more productive role while Thomas serves as a reserve, his glass only to be broken in case of emergency.

Keeping a starting front three of McLendon, Heyward and Tuitt, with McCullers working in specialty packages, represents athleticism, strength and physical versatility. Thomas, or even Keisel, represent back-up options who may only see the field due to injury, blowouts or simply to give the main players a two-snap break.

If that's the case, Keisel's release makes sense. Perhaps it should be viewed more as a nod of faith in McCullers rather than Thomas.