Steelers NT Casey Hampton Making the Most of Injury, Experience

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets scrambles against Casey Hampton #98 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac wrote Thursday there's a hand-written sign above Steelers NT Casey Hampton's locker that reads "Coach Hamp."

He didn't say whether Hampton wrote the sign, but he's certainly living the message.

As Hampton continues to rehab from a torn ACL suffered in January, he's been mentoring 4th round draft pick Alameda Ta'amu, a player look upon as Hampton's possible successor.

Steve McLendon looks to be the team's starting nose tackle if Hampton cannot return for the Steelers' season-opener at Denver in less than two months. But Hampton isn't ruling himself out just yet.

"I'm planning on coming back for the season," Hampton said Wednesday. "That's what I'm looking at. That's realistic for me. I don't know about anybody else.

True to Hampton's style, he knows the game, and he knows his body. That's mostly because he's had two torn ACLs in his career, and even at age 35, he knows what to expect from the process.

Having Hampton at the zero technique on running downs, and the more athletic (read: younger) McLendon and Ta'amu battling for passing downs gives the Steelers a surge of versatility at the ever-important nose tackle position.

The recent signing of LB Brandon Johnson - who played mostly on passing downs in Cincinnati last season - shows the Steelers are committed to shoring up both their base defense (which Hampton anchors) and sub packages, in which players like McLendon, Ta'amu and Johnson could see extensive time. Not that McLendon couldn't play nose in the base defense (he did much of last season when Hampton struggled through various injuries), but having a rested nose tackle on every snap could make the league's leading scoring defense even better in 2012.


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