Steelers GM Kevin Colbert says 'door is still open' for the returns of Casey Hampton, Max Starks

Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

The situation isn't much different for the Steelers in 2013; Depth and experience are still issues at offensive tackle and nose tackle. One of the main differences is now Max Starks and Casey Hampton aren't rehabbing torn ACLs. Perhaps that's why the Steelers are leaving the door open for a potential return.

Age is only a number.

Sort of.

The Steelers saw the contracts of longtime veterans Casey Hampton and Max Starks expire, and the free agency market hasn't been reported to be hot for their services. Their old boss's boss, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, isn't against the idea of bringing them back, however.

And why not? This is very similar to the situation the same players faced at this time last year. The main difference being both of them were rehabbing from torn ACLs suffered in the Steelers' playoff loss at Denver in January, 2012. Starks was a free agent, and Hampton was very likely only going to get another season with the team if he agreed to reduce the amount owed to him in 2012.

Hampton did agree to make that reduction, and despite the rave reviews Steve McLendon was earning in camp, Hampton was still the unquestioned starter at nose tackle.

Starks was said to have been replaced with the addition of Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams via the draft. That notion didn't last long into the preseason, when Adams appeared less than ready to handle NFL-level pass rushers. The Steelers quickly re-signed Starks, and, ironically, the aged, battle-tested veteran coming off major knee surgery was the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games in 2012.

Fast-forward to 2013. Neither Starks nor Hampton are coming off knee surgeries, but the Steelers are in something of a similar position. Inexperience exists at both positions, although moves have been made to correct that. There has to be a concern with OT Marcus Gilbert, who took a big step back in his second year after a decent rookie season in 2011. It shouldn't be obvious to anyone who the better left tackle would be between the two, but with only Kelvin Beachum - a rookie in 2012 who ended up at right tackle when Adams was injured for the last time that season - backing those positions up, the prospect of adding a rookie tackle isn't crazy, but a veteran would make more sense.

The Steelers didn't play McLendon often last year. The fact he averaged less than 10 snaps a game and was signed to a three-year contract one day after reports surfaced he had been in talks with the Green Bay Packers only seems to add fuel to the dual-theory the Steelers were playing Hampton into shape and hiding McLendon from the restricted free agency market. The question becomes whether they feel enough about McLendon to put him out there full-time with only part-time criminal Alameda Ta'amu and something called Hebron Fangupo behind him.

In other words, Hampton is only a phone call away.


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