Continued from page 1

“We’ve preached from Day 1 that, especially on the offensive line, position flexibility is probably most valuable thing you have. And that’s why we’ll go get somebody like Trai.”

Essex has started 25 games over his six seasons with Pittsburgh _ some each at tackle and guard. He also can play some center, but he did lose his job as the starting right guard early last season.

His contract expired, Essex said Steelers coaches weren’t shy in letting him know when they saw him at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s wedding last month that Essex was too overweight for them to re-sign him.

“They see the huge difference between then and now,” Essex said this week after he agreed a one-year contract on Monday. “They know I spent some time losing weight. They’d been keeping in contact with me, but this would have never happened if I didn’t take the time to lose weight in the first place.”

Essex married this year, and his lockout was spent “living it up” between bachelor parties and honeymoons.

Word from Steelers coaches hit home, however.

“It made me realize that if I want to stay in this game and if I want to play, that I have to really change some habits,” Essex said. “I made some bad habits, and the lockout was bad for me. But also, this was blessing.”

Having the Steelers temporarily turn their back on him was one thing. The phone not ringing from any other club was another.

But it says just as much about Pittsburgh’s depth on the line as it does about Essex’s successful diet that he was lining up as the No. 2 left tackle in practice the day he returned to the team.

That sounds alarming _ and it probably would be, for most teams. Somehow, though, the Steelers find a way to make it work year after year.

“It starts, first, with our coaches in the room,” Foster said. “Coach (Sean) Kugler and coach (Harold Goodwin), they do a good job of making sure everyone knows everything. They treat everyone as if you’re going to go in to play the game each week.

“We don’t mind who’s beside us playing. We just keep it rolling with whoever’s in there.”

The Steelers play host to the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday.