Brett Keisel sat on a bench, watching his teammates stream past him to the practice field. He has done this for 12 springs now, but it struck him differently this time.
"I said, 'Wow, we have a lot of fresh faces,' " Keisel said.
The Steelers' old guard has shrunk. Super Bowl rings no longer are plentiful around their South Side facility. Only seven players remain who have them from Super Bowl XL, just 12 from XLIII.
Those dozen call themselves the '08ers. Keisel believes it's past time for those fresh faces to start their own tradition by renewing a Steelers custom from the previous decade.
"There was a trend there for a while; every few years we went back," Keisel said. "Hopefully this is the year we go back."
The Steelers won the Super Bowl in the seasons of 2005 and 2008 and returned in 2010, only to lose to Green Bay.
Other players with Steelers Super Bowl rings are Ryan Clark, Larry Foote, William Gay, Heath Miller, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Spaeth, Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons, Greg Warren and LaMarr Woodley.
Among those gone is the guy who had Keisel's back for many years, James Harrison. They were rookies together in 2002. Keisel became the starting right defensive end in 2006 and Harrison became the starting right outside linebacker in 2007.
"James and I were very close, we have been together from the get-go, played special teams together, ended up starting together and had a really good thing going for a while," Keisel said. "But we've moved on. He's a Bengal now. We have Jason Worilds out there now. We're trying to get that same feel for each other. We got a little last year playing together but it's going to take time.
"I believe in Jason and I think he's going to be a good outside linebacker."
Keisel, the oldest player on defense at 34, has played some of his best football in his latter years. He was a late bloomer, a late seventh-round draft pick who became a great special teams player before moving into the lineup.
He knows his days grow short for the game and that this might even be his final season.
"It's definitely possible," he said. "It's not a secret that I'm one of the older guys on the team, the oldest guy on the defense. If it is that way, I want to do everything I can in my power to hopefully help lead this team to another championship."
Last season, Keisel again led the Steelers with an astounding 40 quarterback hurries, 21 more than Timmons, who was second. He added 4 1/2 sacks, just 1 1/2 off the team lead.
He has held off 2011 No. 1 draft pick Cameron Heyward for two years and is expected to make it three. In those past two seasons, the Steelers defense ranked No. 1 overall in fewest yards allowed. Keisel believes they can improve on that in 2013 with more big plays, even with those three fresh faces -- Worilds, Steve McLendon at nose tackle and Cortez Allen at cornerback.
"It's a good thing, you know? We have a lot of young guys who are expected to come in and play great ball," he said. "That's the way the business goes, each year you have a different team, each year you have new guys who have to step up and make plays. We expect these guys who are given opportunities to step up and make plays.
"I feel like we can be really good again. We've made an emphasis on trying to get some turnovers here in OTAs. I think that will be important this year, to get more turnovers, to get more sacks."
Keisel hasn't missed a spring practice, even though several of the other '08ers on defense have gone missing, including Polamalu since his appearance the first week.
"This is my home, I live just up the street," Keisel said. "This is my team, I feel like. I think it's important for me to be here. We have a lot of young defensive linemen; I want to show them that even an old guy can come out here and work, even an old guy can go into the weight room and practice. If I can do it, they can do it."
NOTES -- The Steelers placed veteran cornerback Justin King, a Gateway High School graduate, on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. They signed undrafted rookie Nigel Malone of Kansas State who had been with the Colts. ... As is their custom, the Steelers will place a small number of individual game tickets for sale starting June 15 at 10 a.m. They can only be purchased at either www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published June 7, 2013 4:00 AM