Found January 17, 2013 on SteelBlitz Steelers Blog:
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to allow long-time nose tackle Casey Hampton to leave via free agency. Since 2001 Hampton has anchored the Steelers defensive line and has been a key to the Steelers success against the run. Hampton’s ability to take up blockers and open lanes for linebackers has helped the team rank first on defense for multiple years during his career. Hampton is still playing well despite being 35 years old and coming off of a torn ACL in 2011 and he will be looking for a good contract during the off-season. However, the Steelers are in salary cap troubles right now and they are trying to get younger on defense which means Hampton is almost assuredly on his way out of Pittsburgh. Therefore, the Steelers will need a new nose tackle to anchor their defensive line. Many fans and mock drafters think they could look at a nose tackle in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. John Jenkins of Georgia and Jonathan Hankins of Ohio State have both been predicted to go to the Steelers with the seventeenth pick in the draft by mock drafters. However, the Steelers may already have their nose tackle of the future on the roster. Steve McLendon was a beast during training camp and the pre-season. Some, including myself, believe he should have played more in 2012 and maybe should have started, but with Hampton on the roster that wasn’t an option. The Steelers have been more willing to stick with veteran players in recent years than in the past. A year ago James Farrior started at middle linebacker despite the fact that he had clearly lost a step. Farrior’s struggles in 2011 led to his release last off-season; his salary cap number was also part of the problem. Hampton is following the same path and is unlikely to return in 2013 for the same reasons. With Hampton gone the Steelers should turn to McLendon and give him a chance to show what he can do. During the 2012 season McLendon only played on 136 defensive snaps. Hampton, on the other hand, played on 495 defensive snaps. With more snaps McLendon could have an even bigger impact on the defense than he or Hampton had in 2012. The NFL is becoming a big time passing league and McLendon’s ability to rush the passer and create pressure up the middle is a huge asset. As long as he can play well in the run game he may be an even better option at nose tackle than Hampton, especially in this new NFL. During the 2012 season Hampton made 11 tackles and was in on 15 others as for other stats Hampton did not record a sack (in 2012 or 2011) and has not forced a fumble since 2010. However, McLendon, who played on less than half the amount of snaps that Hampton played, recorded two sacks and forced a fumble. His ability to push the pocket and get to the quarterback makes him a huge asset on the defensive line. The Steelers need to find a way to get McLendon onto the field in 2013 and see if he can play at a high level through 16 games of starter snaps. Even if they don’t see McLendon as the nose tackle of the future they should work him in at defensive end. For a comparison here are Hampton’s 2012 stats vs McLendon’s stats averaged out to the stats he was on pace for had he played the same amount of snaps on defense:   Player Total Tackles Tackles Assited Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles Hampton 26 11 15 0 0 McLendon 26 15 11 7 3   As stated before McLendon would have to play as well against the run as Hampton has during his career to make him more valuable at nose tackle. However, if he can do that along with his ability to get after the passer he may just be the nose tackle of the future.   The post Steelers: A Case for Steve McLendon to Start in 2013 appeared first on SteelBlitz.
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