Steelers 2012 Position Battles: Nose Tackle

The next position battle on the list is at Nose Tackle.  The Steelers have a had a stud in this position for years.  Casey Hampton is expected to be sidelined at the beginning of the season though with his knee injury.  Hampton would like to be ready but he is still most likely going to end up on the PUP List when week 1 comes around.

That leaves a gaping hole in the middle.  Hampton is a huge asset.  Literally and figuratively.  The Steelers have counted on Hampton for a long time.  His role will be hard to replace.  Hampton is a space eater who makes all the players around him better by taking up 2 and sometimes 3 blockers.  The Steelers will try to fill that hole with one of three guys.  They have Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon and fourth round pick Alameda Ta’amu.

I already have Hood starting at LDE.  He could make the transition to NT if the need were to arise.  He has been rumored to be possibly making the switch if necessary.  Hood could be a good nose tackle and would definitely take up blockers but he is more suited to be a DE.  He could fill the role for 6 weeks until Hampton came off of PUP if it came down to it but I do not see him making the transition.

Then there is Steve McLendon.  McLendon has been the fill in for Hampton and Chris Hoke the last few seasons.  When someone went down with injury or needed a blow McLendon was the guy.  McLendon played well in spot duty but many question whether he can do it on an every down basis throughout and entire season.  His coach John Mitchell doesn’t have that fear.  Mitchell thinks McLendon has what it takes.  That is a lot coming from Mitchell he is not one to shell out undue praise.

McLendon has beefed up this offseason as well.  McLendon has gone from his listed 280 pounds to a bulky 325.  He is prepared to take over the NT position if necessary.  McLendon is also not growing as a fat guy either.  He looks good for a guy who weighs 325 pounds.  That added weight will help McLendon take on double teams and shoulder the load at the start of the season.

Lastly is fourth round pick Alameda Ta’amu.  Ta’amu was a steal for this team.  He was touted as a second round pick to many.  Ta’amu looks the part of a 3-4 NT.  He is a huge man at 6’3 and 348 pounds.  He is a strong kid who will have to learn how to take on blockers in the NFL.  He was more of a push forward type of guy at Washington.  That was more due to him overpowering players rather than being that type of player.

Ta’amu even if he does not start will still make an impact on this team.  Even as a back up he will be on the field.  Nose Tackles do not last all game in the heat of September.  Ta’amu will still get some reps.  He will be learning under fire.  He seems to have a great teacher as well right now.  Ta’amu is being coached up by Hampton.  Hampton has taken the role of coach while he is not allowed to practice.  That will do nothing but help this team.  If Hampton can coach up Ta’amu and get him to the level he is capable of the Steelers will be in great shape heading into the future with this defensive line.  Hood, Heyward and Ta’amu sounds real nice to me.

I do not see this as being much of a competition.  Hampton starts if he plays.  If Hampton is out this job is McLendon’s to lose.  Ta’amu is still a bit to inexperienced.   While I would love to see Ta’amu win this job I do not expect him to.  If he does it means he is better then we all expected.  That would be nice to see but it will not happen this fast.

McLendon is the leader in the clubhouse.  With his new bigger body he should hold up well.  John Mitchell is excited for both of these guys and really likes McLendon.  If he likes him then I like him as well.  Your starter in week one will be:

Nose Tackle

Steve McLendon