PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ramon Foster can still hear the sound of his right knee buckling underneath him.

It's the first time in the Pittsburgh Steeler guard's two-plus decades playing football he'd ever heard one of his joints go "pop pop pop."

Lying on the field at Saint Vincent College after the ugly collision during the opening week of training camp last month, Foster feared the worst.

"A lot of things go through your mind," Foster said. "You don't want to go through your whole entire career and end it on an injury or have to go to (injured reserve). I've always been a gamer. I've always been a guy that shows up."

Something that Foster will continue to do for the AFC North champions now that the right knee that bent backward so awkwardly has mostly healed. The nine-year veteran practiced with his teammates on Monday for the first time since he hyperextended and suffered a bone bruise in the knee on July 28.

The 32-year-old is optimistic he'll be available when the Steelers open the regular season at Cleveland on Sept. 9, though a lot of it will depend on how the knee responds to practice.

Though he feels good, Foster is also being cautious. He doesn't want to rush back at the expense of his long-term health.

"This season is challenging," Foster said. "My goal is to be 100 percent right so I don't have to take a week off at some point for general soreness. We'll see how we feel (Tuesday)."

Foster is the longest-tenured member of one of the NFL's top offensive lines. He created a role for himself after making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and is entering the final season of a three-year deal he signed in 2016. He shrugged when asked if the injury ended any chance at signing a new contract before the regular season starts.

"We're at a point now where if it happens, it happens and if not, it's up to me to have a great season," Foster said. "The way the market is now, we'll see how it goes."

Foster is simply relieved it's even an option and is well aware of how narrowly he avoided a more harrowing outcome. When coach Mike Tomlin reviewed the play during a film session with the entire team, he paused at the moment Foster's right knee bent backward awkwardly.

"My foot was in the ground barely turning," Foster said. "Nobody said they could look at it, so for me to be practicing today is truly a blessing."

Foster has spent the majority of the past month in the trainer's room recuperating, a process he said he "hated every minute of."

Still, he understands it's a small price to pay. Enormously popular with his teammates, Foster noted an uptick in chatter when he lined up on Monday.

"The thing I always say to myself is, 'When I'm done, I don't want to be a guy that is just someone they forget about,'" Foster said. "Clearly I've made my mark on some guys because they said practice wasn't the same. It was fun to be back."

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