Steve McLendon isn't trying to be Casey Hampton

Jared Wickerham

The fact Steve McLendon was primed to be the first Steelers nose tackle not named Hampton or Hoke to start a game in a decade was unavoidable. But he added weight, and is taking it upon himself to shed those expectations, in 2014.

Quotes like this make fans and reporters swoon.

In speaking with ESPN's Scott Brown, Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon cut a vein, talking about the expectations he faced in replacing Steelers' all-time great Casey Hampton.

"Everybody knows what Casey was. I've seen the man play. There's nothing else like him. I'm far from Casey. I'm never going to try to be Casey. The only thing I can do is work every day, do my best and just be the best Steve that I can be." Being the best Steve he can be is an admirable goal. But Steve may have a bit more help this season than he did last year.

Plenty of hack writers and wannabe advanced statisticians want to pin the team's nose dive in rush defense statistics on the nose tackle (one stat in particular measured an average three yards down field on McLendon's 20 tackles, and immediately proclaimed him to be the reason the Steelers' run defense fell apart, ignoring the 413 other carries the defense faced in 2013).

McLendon said it the best; he's no Casey Hampton. The ex-Steeler is one of the best 0-technique players of his generation. McLendon was undrafted in 2009, and worked his way to the starting lineup. Sure, he can improve as a player, but as good as Hampton was, he also was flanked for a good portion of his career by two of the finest defensive ends the team had in its 3-4 alignment history; Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. Hampton had James Farrior along side Lawrence Timmons. McLendon had Timmons and rookie Vince Williams.

Defense is a team concept. An individual player can be outstanding despite playing in a bad defense. McLendon is probably in the middle of that somewhere.

He added 20 pounds, apparently, admitting the decision to slim down was not as advantageous as initially hoped. What that speaks to is probably more about filling a pure nose tackle role in 2014 as opposed to utilizing his athleticism as a pass rusher. The Steelers selected Stephon Tuitt in the second round of this past draft; a true inside-outside, multi-role defensive lineman, and he will likely man a role playing both this year - outside in base defensive situations and inside on passing downs.

It's about the team, and if McLendon's added weight, and shed burden of Hampton-sized expectations can best serve the greater good on the inside on running downs, then so be it. The Steelers' defense got a lot better through the offseason, and McLendon will only be a bigger part of it this year.

Physically and mentally.

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