This is part 8 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:
If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
Now that we’ve finished reviewing the Steelers’ offense, it’s time to take a look at how the defense did in 2011.
The first position that we’re going to look at is the anchor of a 3-4 defense; the nose tackle.
Hampton has started at nose tackle for the Steelers since 2001. During that time, Hampton has been one of the premiere nose tackles in the NFL. He’s played in 5 Pro Bowls, and started on three Steelers Super Bowl teams. He was also named to the Steelers’ 75th season all-time team.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. 2010 and 2011 have been the worst two consecutive seasons in Hampton’s career. He’s made fewer tackles during the past two years than he has during any other 2 year stretch in his career. Even 2001 & 2002, Hampton’s first two seasons in the NFL, were more productive.
“Big Snack” is now 34 years old. His best years are behind him. He no longer collapses the pocket the way he once did. More importantly, he suffered an ACL injury at the end of the season. It has yet to be seen how a man of his age and size will recover from such a serious injury. Moreover, Hampton has never been known for his off-season conditioning. So I doubt that he’ll work himself back into playing condition the way that a younger, more fit player might.
I’ve been saying for the past 3 years that the Steelers needed to start grooming Casey Hampton’s successor. They never did that. And now, they may not have any other choice.
Chris Hoke joined the Steelers the same year that Casey Hampton did. And he served as Hampton’s backup for that entire time. And like Hampton, time has caught up to Hoke.
Hoke is 35 years old, so he’s actually older than Hampton. And because of that, Hoke has chosen to retire.
Hoke was a capable backup to the very end. Mike Tomlin likes to say that, “The standard is the standard.” Well, no player lived up to that saying better than Chris Hoke. The defense never missed a beat when Hoke came into the game.
Thanks for your contribution, Chris. Steeler Nation appreciates it.
Steve McLendon is a gritty young player. I actually like what I’ve seen from him thus far.
But the reality is that McLendon is not a long-term solution at nose tackle. At 280 lbs., he’s just too small for the position.
In a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is usually the heaviest man on the defensive line. Yet Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, and Cameron Heyward all weigh more than McLendon. So did Aaron Smith. And Casey Hampton actually outweighs him by 45 lbs. And that’s according to Hampton’s “official” weight. We all know that Hampton really weighs more than that.
So the Steelers are left with an aging veteran nose tackle who suffered a major injury, and a young backup who is actually too small for the position.
It’s becoming clear that nose tackle is a glaring need for the Steelers. In fact, it may actually be the team’s top need this off-season. Perhaps this will finally be the year that the Steelers draft one.
Hmmmmmmm, that sounds familiar.