Trickle Becoming Flood of Steelers

The Steelers are starting to look like the Steelers again as they welcome the trickling of free agents. The team will practice together for the first time on Thursday.

LATROBE — One by one, the boys are finding their way back home.

Familiar names and faces are showing up at Saint Vincent College, just as ink dries on their new contracts with the Steelers.

Monday was an off day for the players, but not for the Steelers' front office, as Kevin Colbert and company acquired the signatures of nose tackle Chris Hoke, cornerback William Gay, quarterback Dennis Dixon, running back Mewelde Moore, punter Daniel Sepulveda and snapper Greg Warren. The team also added a tight end, when free agent John Gilmore was signed away from Tampa Bay.

These guys, except for Gilmore, of course, have been here before. Some day, they will likely look back on free agency and wonder what the big deal is.

"It was kind of crazy during the lockout," Hoke said Tuesday. "You'd hear one thing on TV, hear another thing from the players and not really know what was going on."

In the end, though, it all came together in time for what became a very abbreviated free agency season for many players. Hoke had been with the Steelers throughout his career, always, it seemed, right on the cusp before making the roster. He didn't know if other teams had noticed his body of work or if any other teams might be interested in acquiring him.

"You kind of sit back and see what's out there," Hoke said. "Because you never know."

All the while, he had a one-year offer from the Steelers right in front of him. Players with less experience had one year-tenders in front of them, but as Hoke put it, "I'm too old for tenders."

He was not too old, as it turned out, to be fooled into signing elsewhere.

"At the end of the day, you realize that you are blessed to have been with this organization all the way," he said. "This is home."

Gay was in the same situation as Hoke. Even though he has less experience than Hoke, he had a one-year offer from the Steelers in his hip pocket and it didn't rest there long before he pulled it out, gave it an autograph and reported to camp.

"I grew up with these guys in this locker room," Gay said. "I didn't want to go nowhere else. There are 31 other teams looking at you, so you want your resume out there. For a while there, everything was up in the air. You didn't know what was going to happen.

"Then, you realize, the defense hasn't changed here and a lot of the same players will be back here and we want to go after this thing one more time. I realized that this is my family."

The sense of belonging led these guys back to Latrobe, but there was still a getting acquainted session that continues.

"I was like, 'Who is that guy?' and 'Who is that guy?'" Gay said as he walked around campus and noticed some new faces. "But I'll catch up as the days go by."

But that's kind of the beauty of this scenario. Even though camp started last Thursday, they haven't missed a thing. In fact, they aren't even allowed to practice with the team until the NFL calendar turns over Thursday morning.

"My wife was wondering why I didn't wait until Wednesday to come in, but I wanted to get in here and be with the guys," Hoke said. "It was kind of strange last night. I had no bed check because I'm actually not here yet, officially."

So what did this father of five do with the luxury of no bed check at training camp?

"I'm an old guy," he said. "I slept."

Gay, like Hoke and the rest, can't wait much longer.

"I wish Thursday was tomorrow," he said.

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