Casey Hampton showed signs of major decline this past year even before the ACL injury suffered in the playoffs. He had major problems with cut blocks and just seemed to wear down. It's bound to happen given the mileage and his age. So even if he comes back, I don’t think he can be counted on as anything more than a role player. He may be a very effective role player, but should probably only play 15-20 snaps a game. With Hoke not coming back and McClendon's admirable efforts just not effective enough, the cupboard is bare at DT. So going into the draft, the Steelers definitely need a DT. Or do we?
In 2009, the Steelers drafted the heir-apparent to Aaron Smith in Evander “Ziggy” Hood. As with most Steeler rookies, he rode the pine in 2009 but saw more action in 2010, starting 9 games. In 2011, he started 7 games and played extensively in all 16. He’s developed into a decent 3-4 DE, but hasn’t been spectacular. He has 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks, while 2011 pick Cameron Heyward blocked a kick, had 13 tackles and 1 sack in far more limited action. At this stage, Heyward looks like a good prospect at one DE spot and stalwart Brett Keisel still probably has a couple more years in the tank at the other DE position.
So while we have an abundance of riches at the DE spots, we’re left bare at DT…or maybe we aren’t. The Big Zig played DT in a 4-3 defense in Missouri. He’s one of the strongest men on the team and at 6-3 and 300 pounds, he already has the size to play inside. With his frame, he could easily add 20 to 30 pounds if needed to stand up to the inevitable double-team.
If you go back and look at the scouting reports on Zig, they were correct in every way – very strong at the point of attack, good use of his hands, decent short pursuit, mediocre long pursuit, limited pass rush, high motor, decent initial burst off the ball – many of the qualities needed to play DT in our scheme. His only negative is that he sometimes plays too high, but that can be corrected with coaching.
So why not plan on putting Ziggy on the inside rotating with Hampton (if/when he comes back), Heyward at one DE spot, Keisel at the other, let McClendon back up the DE spots (where his 6-4, 280 frame seems to fit better), pick up a veteran free agent as insurance and draft a young DE/DT in the later rounds of the draft to start grooming? We’d get more mileage out of Hampton if he played limited snaps and Ziggy could be our Next Big Thing on the inside.