Fort Wayne native Trai Essex has worn only one uniform in his NFL career, but he's more than ready to don his new Indianapolis Colts gear.
Essex signed with the Colts as a free agent on Monday, joining the team to help fill some needs on the offensive line. He enters his eighth season after playing the first seven with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It's kind of a homecoming for me with friends and family here, and obviously close to Fort Wayne,” Essex said. “I'll be with the same coordinator (Bruce Arians) and O-line coach (Harold Goodwin) that I worked with for a good portion of my career in Pittsburgh. I couldn't ask for a better situation.”
Essex, 29, who played at Harding High School and Northwestern University, was released by the Steelers last week in the final roster cuts. The Colts went looking for a lineman this week after guard Joe Reitz missed Sunday's game in Chicago with a knee injury and tackle Winston Justice suffered a concussion in the game.
Jacksonville had also been interested in Essex, and he thought the Steelers might call again since they had a couple offensive line injuries.
Essex said he feels blessed to still be in the NFL and to have an opportunity to play for his home-state team.
Essex has played in 76 regular-season games and started 28, and has been a part of three Super Bowl appearances and two wins. He played in all 16 Steelers games last season. Over the course of his career, the 6-foot-5, 324-pound Essex has played guard, tackle and center, and isn't sure whether the Colts plan to use him at guard or tackle.
He does expect to feel right at home with his former Steelers coaches.
“The terminology is basically the same, the protection's the same,” Essex said. “I'll be protecting somebody a little different in Andrew Luck. He probably has his own cadence and the way he does things. But the offense as a whole is the same one I've been with all my career. I'm going into a good situation where I can be ahead of the curve.”
Essex and his wife had discussed moving to Indianapolis in the offseason even before his release, so the idea of playing for the Colts feels like a good fit. He was at the Colts practice complex Monday to meet the coaching staff and said he plans to visit again on the players' day off Tuesday before joining the team for practice on Wednesday.
Essex could be on the active roster for the home opener against Minnesota this Sunday and said he hopes to play. A week off after being released by the Steelers has allowed his body to heal and feel fresh, Essex said.
Essex's versatility on the line makes him a valuable player, whether as a starter or a backup.
“That's been my calling card the last five years of my career, and it's helped me keep a job in the NFL,” he said. “It does hurt sometimes when you're trying to establish a starting role, but not many people are blessed to play eight years in the NFL."
Essex said the Colts issued him uniform No.66, but he'd like to see if he can land a number in the 70s before the weekend. He wore 79 with the Steelers.
“Putting on a different colored uniform will be something I haven't done in my career, but nothing else can surprise me at this point,” he said. “There's nothing much I haven't seen. This is a blessing. It'll be fun and interesting to put on a Colts uniform.”