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Nose Tackle now top priority for the Steelers draft?

If the Steelers weren’t considering taking a Nose Tackle early in this years NFL draft, they may be now.  Veteran Nose Tackle Casey Hampton had surgery on his left knee last month to repair a torn ACL he suffered in the wild card game in Denver. This is the 2nd surgery Hampton has had on that knee in his career.

Bill Cowher originally drafted the big snack back in 2001 and he’s been the anchor of the Steelers defensive line ever since, playing in 157 games in his career.  Traditionally a team that runs the 34 defense like the the Steelers do, rely on a big player like Hampton to control the center of the line and free up the linebackers to make plays.  A 5 time pro bowler, #98 has done his job consistently and helped Dick Lebeau’s group remain in the top percentage of the league in rush defense year in and  year out.

Traditionally an ACL injury takes about 9 months to heal so if there is a silver lining it’s that Hampton will have all offseason to rehab and recover from the surgery. With training camp starting late July though, this would only give Hampton about 6 months now before the team reports to Latrobe. With the retirement of best friend and fellow NT Chris Hoke, the Steelers are faced with a serious issue now on the defensive line. As of today the only healthy player left to fill Hampton’s spot is backup Steve McLendon.

McLendon just finished up his second season with the Steelers, finishing up with 13 Tackles and 1 Sack. He played mainly in spot duty most of the year but did see more playing time in the wild card game when Hampton went out. McLendon has potential but the team can hardly afford to start the year with only 1 healthy player at NT. Even if Hampton goes on the PUP list to start the season, it’s no guarantee he’ll be an effective player the rest of the way. That’s assuming of course that he even makes the final roster.

Hampton is scheduled to count at just over $8 million against the Steelers 2012 salary cap. That’s a number that absolutely needs to come down one way or the other. The team can restructure and take part of that money, convert it to a signing bonus, and lower his hit this season. They can also add another year to his deal if they want or of course just release him. I’m sure GM Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin were hoping to get atleast 1 more year out of Hampton so they could concentrate their premium draft picks on other areas, but they may not have that luxury now.

Most fans feel that Offensive Guard is the position the Steelers should address with their first round pick this April, and I would definitely agree with that. However, with the status of the NT position in complete flux right now they may need to target one of the big prospects coming out of college this year, such as :

Dontari Poe – 6’5″ 350 lbs. – Memphis or Alameda Ta’amu – 6’3″ 341 lbs. – Washington.  Most feel that Poe will be a top 10-15 pick but Ta’amu is climbing the charts quickly as well and may also go in the first round.  We’ll have more in depth reports on these players as we get closer to the draft so stay tuned to SA for all the latest information.

Either one would fit in nicely on the Steelers Defensive Line, most likely stepping in right away and starting.

No matter what the Steelers do the rest of the offseason, NT will be a position to keep an eye on and one that could look significantly different than we’ve accustomed too for the last decade.

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