PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24: Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams is tackled by Steve McLendon #90 and Casey Hampton #98 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
It's very likely it'll be the last time he'll have to recover from a knee injury in order to play in Pittsburgh next year. Like the champion he is, though, he worked to recover and play in what's likely to be his last as a Steeler and maybe as a professional football player.
Hampton is as good as it gets as far as a run-stopping 0-technique. He's arguably the best in that capacity in his generation. His name will come up in Hall of Fame discussions in the future, and he's already one of the best Steelers of all time.
If his return from the PUP list shows anything, it's Hampton's desire to give it a go one more time.
He agreed to restructure the last year of his contract this offseason, dropping him from a scheduled $5.8 million (including a $1 million workout bonus) to $2.8 million. Hampton hasn't been a three-down player in a while, but he's been a huge reason why the Steelers have been one of the top run defenses in the NFL during his 11-year career.
Whether Hampton will be in there for every first and second down remains to be seen. Steve McLendon is seen as an up-and-comer along the defensive line, and his explosion and power were evident in Pittsburgh's 24-23 loss at Philadelphia in its first preseason game. He crushed the pocket and pulled down QB Michael Vick for a sack.
It just doesn't get better than Hampton against the run, though. And nothing is better than depth along the defensive line. Being able to rotate in two talented nose tackles will keep a fresh middle defender on the field at all times. Their varying skill sets will give the Steelers the unique ability to disguise intentions - a critical component of a zone blitz-based defense.
Mix in rookie fourth-round draft pick Alameda Ta'amu in a learning capacity, Hampton's final season can serve as a strong contributor passing on the tricks of the trade to the younger guys of the future.
It's unlikely anyone will wear No. 98 again, but No. 98 can, in his final season, do what he can to make those behind him carry on his legacy through their skill on the field.