"I'm feeling good," said the offensive lineman who weighed close to 380 at the same time last year.
"I've got lots of energy," he said.
At the Steelers' first practice on Thursday, Essex put that energy to use as the first-team left tackle. And did that energy carry over to the playing field?
"Oh yeah," he said. "Just coming out of my stance I'm quicker. My stamina is better. Everything is just better: my endurance, my explosion out the blocks, my quickness in my side-to-side lateral movement, all of that is just better. I mean, I needed that. I've known for a while that if I lost weight I could get that way. It's nice to see that it's finally happened."
Essex was given the nod over rookie second-round pick Mike Adams, who was the second-team left tackle at Thursday's non-contact practice. And Essex said "I'm going to try my damndest to make it stay that way."
But Essex understands the potential of Adams, a 6-7, 323-pounder out of Ohio State.
"They're going to give ‘Big Boy' a chance, too," Essex said. "We'll see how things play out."
Big Boy? Is that Adams's nickname?
"Yeah, Big Boy. He a big boy," Essex said. "It's weird to say but he's still getting used to that big ol' body of his. He's got a ways to go but you see all of that natural talent in the world he has. He's big, he's long, he knows the game of football. He just needs to adjust to the NFL life, and he'll get a crash course here."
And Essex is half competitor, half mentor in that regard.
"That's the Steeler way," Essex said. "I'm helping him every chance I get. He's looking to me if he messes up. I let him know if he messes up. But he has a lot of talent, a lot of potential, so eventually that's going to be his spot, but he's going to have to fight me for it for right now."
"It's about making sure they're ready to go from an assignment standpoint," said coach Mike Tomlin. "We acknowledge they missed some time because of the universities that they went to from an academic standpoint in the spring. We're not going to allow that to be an excuse; they're not either. We'll get them acclimated and put them in some situations and get to know them, but obviously a big part of their evaluation, as is everyone's, is what happens inside these preseason stadiums. That's what's awesome about preseason football for me. I'm an advocate of preseason football."
NOTES – Steelers GM Kevin Colbert confirmed the team has halted negotiations with holdout Mike Wallace, who'll need to be on the roster for six games to earn an accrued season and become a free agent next March. ... Tomlin said that tight end Heath Miller (left ankle) and rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu (foot) suffered minor injuries Thursday and should return to action soon. .... The Steelers' first open practice will be Friday, but they won't don pads and engage in full contact until Saturday.