SnapShot: Casey Poppinga

Brett Keisel was one of only two Wyoming natives in the NFL last year, so he was happy to see the Steelers add another product of the Cowboy State this year when they signed tight end Casey Poppinga after the draft. <br><br> Keisel, in fact, remembers playing against Poppinga when Keisel's BYU hosted Utah State. <br><br> "I put him on his back and got a sack," Keisel said with a hearty laugh.

"I knew him even before that. When he was at Wyoming, he hosted me on my visit before he transferred."

Is that why Keisel put him on is back?

"No," he said. "I put him on his back for fun. But he's a real good guy."

Poppinga laughed about it later, but countered the evidence.

"That's a lie," he said. "He never put me on my back."

Perhaps the score will be settled at training camp. The 285-pound Keisel will have plenty of opportunities to rattle Poppinga, a 6-foot-5, 256-pound tight end from Evanston, Wyoming. Poppinga is the Steelers' fifth tight end and an early contender for the five-man practice squad.

"The first team that contacted me was the New Orleans Saints. There was a great opportunity to make the team there," Poppinga said of the free-agent dealings following the draft. "But 10 minutes after that, Coach [Ken] Whisenhunt called and he said we want you to come here. He said, ‘We really want you to come here. You're one of three tight ends we're thinking about and you're our first choice. We want you to come here because we think you'd be a good fit. You can develop and play behind some tight ends who've developed themselves into a pretty elite class here in the NFL.'

"He said I'd have a great opportunity to learn from them, get some reps out on the field – which some rookies never do – and hopefully get to the point where I can play in some preseason games. My agent and I figured I'd be stupid not to come here.

"What's also great is I'm the only rookie tight end. It's nice to have all these guys helping me out and me getting all the rookie reps. They've been awesome. It was a great decision."

Poppinga was a first-team all-state football player at Evanston, as well as a track and basketball player and honor student. He went to the University of Wyoming in 1996 and the following two years served an LDS mission in San Paolo, Brazil.

Upon his return home, a coaching change at Wyoming brought about a new offensive philosophy, which left little room for Poppinga, so he transferred to Utah State.

"Wyoming went to a four-wide receiver offense with no tight ends," he said. "I didn't want to play defense and I definitely didn't want to be a 240-pound wide receiver, so I had to look elsewhere."

At Utah State, Poppinga redshirted in 1999. Upon his return to the field in 2000 he started nine games and caught 15 passes. He caught only three passes as a junior and last year caught 16 passes for 135 yards.

"It was kind of frustrating because it would be going good for me and then they'd exclude me out of the offense for a game," he said. "I don't know. It was a good senior year but it probably wasn't as fun for a pass-receiving tight end. It was definitely fun as a blocker. Our offense definitely revolved around the tight end. It really helped prepare me for the physicality of the NFL."

Does Poppinga consider himself a better blocker or receiver?

"As the stats show I was definitely more of a blocker. I wasn't used as much as a pass-receiving tight end. Hopefully, if I have a career in the NFL, I can develop myself into a better pass-receiving tight end."

Poppinga will turn 26 on Oct. 15. It's an advanced age for NFL rookies, so he'll probably have to make a quick impression. Is Keisel helping?

"Pretty much," Poppinga said. "He's kind of been there for me, telling me what's up and to keep me informed of where to be and not to be late and he keeps me in my playbook. He's a good guy. He played with my brother for a year at BYU and I kind of kept in touch with him that way, too."

Jim Wexell

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