Kevin Colbert recently commented on two veteran Steelers who sustained injuries late last season. Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall both suffered knee injuries and had surgeries to repair their ACL’s during the offseason.
“My guess is they’ll open the season on PUP. You’ve got to remember, both of those injuries happened late in the year.” - Kevin Colbert
While chances are very high that Mendenhall will start on the PUP, Hampton continually hints that he will be back in time for the start of the season. When asked if he would start on the PUP list, Hampton replied, “I can’t see that happening. I feel I’ll be ready to go.”
Hampton does have a possibility of being ready to start the season even though he sustained the injury so late last season. Athletes who suffer injuries of this ilk (as long as they aren’t career ending) tend to recover quickly after the second or third time around. Hampton has had bad knees in the past, and could follow this trend. Also, Hampton is entering his 12th season with the Steelers. With Dick LeBeau continuing his tenure, it’s not like Hampton will have to learn anything new. Hell, it’s not like a NT really needs to do much anyways other than take up space and gobble up blockers for blitzing linebackers. And, Hampton is really good at that.
Should Hampton not be cleared by team doctors for the start of the season, two players stand a chance at replacing Hampton. The 325 pounder will be entering his 3rd season with the Steelers and has seen action in 21 games at that time, collecting 15 tackles and a sack. McLendon’s teammates have confidence in him and thinks he would do well at replacing Hampton for however long he would need to.
The other available player to start at NT for the Steelers is newly drafted rookie Alameda Ta’amu out of Washington. Ta’amu was a fourth rounder and was talked up significantly here on NPC in the days leading up to the draft. The potential of being the ‘gem’ of the draft, Ta’amu could be an impact player early on in his career – especially if Hampton is not ready to go in time. And, since a NT doesn’t really need to ‘learn’ as much in depth detail as the other players need to in Dicky’s Defense, his learning curve (mentally) is not as large. Where Ta’amu will need to step up to quickly is being able to take on blockers and force double teams. That’s where Hampton is so effective. Ta’amu is not as big as ‘Big Snack,’ so he will need to work hard on justifying a double team from the center and one of two guards. I think this kid can make that happen.
I now ask the rest of Steeler Nation your opinion. Who will start at NT for the Steelers at the beginning of the season?