Casey Hampton has been running, although not practicing, at the Steelers mandatory mini camp this week. When you think about a torn ACL that happens late in the previous year, the first thing that comes to mind is that you won’t see that player again until mid season next year. After all, starting the season on the PUP list isn’t the worse thing in the world for an injury that takes 9-12 months to heal under normal circumstances.
Don’t tell NT Casey Hampton that though, he feels he’s going to be ready to go once the 2012 campaign kicks off this September. ESPN wrote today after Hampton made those very comments and is looking forward to returning sooner than most expect.
“I’m planning on coming back for the season,” Hampton said Wednesday. “That’s what I’m looking at. That’s realistic for me. I don’t know about anybody else.
When asked about the possibility of being placed on the PUP list: “Nah, I can’t see that happening,” he said. “I feel like I’m ready to go.”
It’s not unusual for players to be optimistic about their playing chances after coming off of a serious injury, in fact I’m mildly surprised when they aren’t. After all this is their livelihood there and in the situation with Hampton, his career is coming to an end anyway so he wants to maximize the time he has left.
Some additional info from Mike Prisuta via Twitter on Wednesday:
@DVEMike: Casey Hampton on departed teammates Farrior, Smith, Hoke: “The difference between me and them, if I ain’t here I’m gonna be somewhere else.” “I’m not gonna retire. I want to play a few more years. Hopefully it’s here but with those young guys coming you never know.” “shooting for the beginning of the season” for his return. “I’m never ready to play in July, anyway. I’m always ready in September.”
Casey sees the writing on the wall, being in the final year of his deal he knows the young guys behind are primed to take over so he wants to take advantage of every chance he has to play this season and as he says, “a few more years”. If you remember he talked about retiring if the Steelers had won Super Bowl XLV, 2 years ago. That went out the window then the Steelers lost and he certainly now wants to finish out strong.
Hampton restructured his deal this year to free up cap space for the team, which is usually a safe bet that his roster spot is safe. The cap hit after redoing a contact can be huge if the player is cut prematurely. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert knows that Hampton is more than capable of handling himself during the rehab process, having been through this injury twice before.
“The one edge Casey will have on anybody is that he’s been through this [injury] twice,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in February. “He knows what to expect. He knows how to do this. He knows how much work he has to do and he knows how he feels.”
Still though, the team won’t force Hampton back or allow him to return to the active lineup until they are sure he’s ready to go. You can bet Hampton will lobby to keep his starting job once September hits but the Steelers have some safeguards in place in case that doesn’t happen.
Steve McLendon has bulked up to around 325 lbs, a more than suitable playing weight for a 34 nose tackle. He’s also got the experience of having worked with both Hampton and the now retired Chris Hoke. Defensive Line coach John Mitchell is confident in McLendon’s abilities; mentioning several times that we all just need to wait and see what McLendon is capable of when given the chance.
Also 4th round draft pick, the skyscraper himself, Alameda Ta’amu is working with the team and many feel he’s the next cornerstone for the defensive line of the future. Ta’amu is still a rookie though but times are changing and even if the Steelers prefer not to start a rookie, you never know when the opportunity will present itself. Watching McLendon and Ta’amu battle it out will be a fun thing to watch later this summer.
For now though, Hampton is focused on getting himself back and assuming his role as the run stopping, line hogging, big snack that we all know and love. You have to pull for Hampton, one of the last remaining Bill Cowher holdovers still on the team.
No matter what happens, NT is in good hands now and in the future.