Injured Hampton mentoring McLendon, Ta’amu
The somewhat crude white sheet of paper taped to the top of
Casey Hampton’s locker said ”Coach Hamp.”
And it was not the veteran nose tackle’s idea.
Then again, considering what Hampton’s doing these days, it’s an
apt job description.
”It comes with being an old guy,” Hampton said with a shrug of
his massive shoulders. ”Being a coach is part of it.”
He certainly looks the part, minus the whistle. The five-time
Pro Bowler spent the last few weeks standing off to the side while
the rest of the Steelers went through organized team activities and
minicamp as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired right
Every once in awhile Hampton would pull back-ups Steve McLendon
or rookie Alameda Ta’amu off to the side and give them a few
pointers on what it takes to play in the heart of coordinator Dick
LeBeau’s 3-4 defense.
Consider Ta’amu all ears. The fourth-round draft pick out of
Washington is considered the eventual heir to Hampton, though he’ll
get at least one season to learn at the foot of one of the greatest
nose tackles of his generation.
Ta’amu, who missed all three weeks of OTAs while finishing up
school, nodded intently while Hampton gave pointers following one
particularly intense drill.
”He’s one of those guys you grow up watching,” Ta’amu said.
”You better be listening when he talks, because he knows how to
play this position better than just about anybody.”
Just not for much longer, and Hampton knows it. He’ll be 35
before the season opener at Denver on Sept. 9 and is now the
longest tenured player on the defense following the retirement of
defensive end Aaron Smith.
”It’s definitely different when you’ve been with guys for
10-plus years,” Hampton said. ”That’s the nature of the beast,
that’s how it is. I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go.”
Which is why Hampton’s not quite ready to judge the 355-pound
Ta’amu just yet. Sure, the kid looks like a nose tackle. It’ll be
awhile before Hampton decides Ta’amu can play like one.
”Everybody looks good in shorts,” Hampton said.
Particularly Hampton, never a fan of football in the springtime.
In that way the torn ACL he suffered in the Wild Card loss to
Denver has been a blessing. He underwent surgery on Jan. 27 and
spent the first few months of the offseason working out in
Besides, at this point he doesn’t really think he needs the
”I’ve been in the defense for 12 years, it’s not like I have a
learning curve or have to do a whole lot,” Hampton said. ”I just
know what to do.”
He believes he’s on pace to be back in time to face the Broncos,
which would be his preference every year if given the choice, and
said the Steelers haven’t approached him about moving him to the
Physically Unable to Perform list.
”I can’t see that happening,” Hampton said. ”I feel I’ll be
ready to go.”
Until then, expect to see a lot of McLendon, who spelled Hampton
capably last season. Hampton said the somewhat undersized McLendon,
who is listed at 280 pounds, could start for most NFL teams.
McLendon’s teammates agree it’s time for him to emerge from
Hampton’s considerable shadow.
”It’s one of those years that you should know the defense, you
should know the calls, you should know the techniques,” defensive
end Brett Keisel said. ”You should be able to go out and play at
high speed, at game speed, so that’s where he’s at.”
Ta’amu isn’t quite there yet, which is fine. He’s only too happy
to quietly absorb the considerable advice Hampton offers. Of
course, Ta’amu has little choice in the matter.
”He doesn’t have to ask, I’m going to help him regardless,”
Hampton said. ”If he wants a piece of mind, he’s going to get it.
Everything I’ve told him he’s been wide open to it.”
Ta’amu shares Hampton’s enthusiasm, and his appetite. The
21-year-old needs to shed about 10 pounds before training camp
starts in July. Getting to the 340-pound range shouldn’t be an
Become a disruptive force the way Hampton has done for over a
decade? That’s another matter.
Hampton will only be only too happy to show Ta’amu the way.
Though to be honest he’d rather have a coach’s paycheck than some
”Hopefully they’ll come with the extra salary that came along
with (the sign),” Hampton said with a laugh. ”If they want to
give me a coach’s salary plus my salary, I’ll take that.”