2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Youngsters taking over on Steelers' defensive line

By WILL GRAVES - AP Sports Writer
    2013-07-28 18:07

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) - Casey Hampton's deep belly laugh, the one that could cut the tension in a meeting room or light up the sideline in an instant, is gone. So is the massive backside that could send opposing centers back onto their heels and the wisdom that comes with being a five-time Pro Bowler.

And for the man used to trotting onto the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers when Hampton's familiar No. 98 came chugging off, it's just weird.

``Sometimes, I wish he was still here,'' Steve McLendon said. ``There's not much you can say about it. I miss him. I think we all do.''

While the decision to cut 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison in the offseason created headlines, the 35-year-old Hampton was nudged quietly toward retirement when the longest-tenured member of one of football's most stable franchises was not offered a new contract. He remains unsigned, even though McLendon insists Hampton can still play.

McLendon may be right, but it most certainly won't be with the Steelers, leaving defensive end Brett Keisel as the last man standing from a defensive front that led Pittsburgh to three Super Bowl appearances and two championships during a six-year stretch between the 2005 and 2010 seasons.

Chris Hoke retired at the end of 2011. So did end Aaron Smith. Now Hampton is gone and Keisel doesn't have a deal beyond 2013.

``If it is the end, I want to go out on top,'' Keisel said. ``And I want to go out on top if it's not the end.''

As has become tradition, Keisel arrived for training camp at Saint Vincent College on Friday in a dump truck with a Steelers hard hat perched atop his head and the barely-in-control thatch of hair that serves as his beard in midseason form. The entrance was more than a little symbolic, with Keisel pointing out the team is ``under construction.''

If so, the strongest beam needs to be replaced.

Even as Hampton's play declined as he approached his mid-30s, he remained the unquestioned heart and soul in the middle of Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. He clogged up running lanes between the hash marks and served as a mentor on the sidelines and in the classroom, one who knew how to push buttons with his homespun charm.

The job has now been passed down to Keisel, coming off a steady season in which he picked up 4.5 sacks and was credited with 40 quarterback pressures. Surrounded by a bunch of 20-somethings, Keisel understands he's now the old guy, one who is ready to carry on the legacy left behind by the players who molded him from seventh-round reach in 2002 to a veteran well into his second decade in the NFL.

``If we need answers, we look to him,'' defensive end Ziggy Hood said. ``If he leads us through, I'm just going to follow.''

The Steelers hope that path leads to the quarterback. Pittsburgh finished No. 1 in total defense for the fifth time since 2004 last year but was a middling 15th in sacks (37) and created just 20 turnovers, with four of them coming in a meaningless season finale.

There was competence but little chaos, something Hood, McLendon and 2011 first-round pick Cam Heyward know it's time to produce after spending the early portions of their careers learning instead of leading.

So does Keisel.

``Our young guys have got to step up and seize this moment,'' Keisel said.

It's why McLendon decided to become one of the world's largest joggers in the offseason. The 320-pounder would head outside for a run a handful of times a week, plodding along in alternating 30-second and 1-minute bursts while drawing astonished looks from the folks he'd pass along the path.

``I just had to do it,'' said McLendon, who had two sacks while spelling Hampton last fall. ``I had to be in better shape.''

A decided departure from Hampton's more sedentary training plan. It wasn't exactly fun, but McLendon didn't have much of a choice. It took him four years to rise from undrafted free agent to the top of the depth chart, though he hasn't stopped to wonder if he's finally arrived.

``The journey hasn't ended, it's really just beginning for me,'' McLendon said. ``It's really going to be a test right now. It's a lot of pressure. The best way to handle pressure is to apply it.''

NOTES: DB Cortez Allen was slowed by knee discomfort on Sunday while fellow DB DeMarcus Van Dyke is dealing with a tweaked hamstring. Both players are listed as day-to-day ... Tight-end David Paulson, who is No. 2 on the depth chart while Heath Miller recovers from left knee surgery, made a series of diving grabs in traffic ... The Steelers don pads for the first time on Monday, a move coach Mike Tomlin likened to ``the first day of school.''

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow WillGraves on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WillGravesAP

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Adrian PetersonApr 23 05:22p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson may not be in the Dallas Cowboys' plans after all, according Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports. Robinson said the Cowboys have not spoken to the Vikings regarding Peterson.

Demaryius ThomasApr 23 03:32p

Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas has decided not to participate in offseason workouts because he does not want to suffer an injury, but general manager John Elway does not [ More ]

Will HillApr 23 03:12p

Baltimore Ravens restricted free-agent FS Will Hill signed his tender offer Thursday, April 23, according to sources. Hill received a one-year deal worth $1.54 million.

Andre EllingtonApr 23 03:02p

Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington's (foot) injured foot is about 95 percent healed, and Ellington has not suffered any setbacks, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

M. Jones-DrewApr 23 02:22p

Free-agent RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Raiders) will sign a one-day deal to retire as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars next Tuesday, April 28. He played nine seasons and rushed [ More ]

Victor CruzApr 23 02:12p

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) said he believes that he will be ready to play in the season opener next season and play like he did before he suffered the injury.

Justin TuckerApr 23 01:52p

Baltimore Ravens restricted free-agent PK Justin Tucker has signed his one-year tender offer. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Bear PascoeApr 23 12:52p

Free-agent TE Bear Pascoe (Falcons) signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears Thursday, April 23. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Sam BradfordApr 23 01:53a

The Philadelphia Eagles and QB Sam Bradford have yet to make significant progress on a contract extension sparking speculation the quarterback might be traded again, although head coach Chip [ More ]

Brandin CooksApr 22 11:43p

New Orleans Saints WR Brandin Cooks (knee) spent time training together with QB Drew Brees during the offseason in San Diego. 'Man, I love everything about him, his makeup, [ More ]

Greg JenningsApr 22 06:13p

Free-agent WR Greg Jennings (Vikings) signed an undisclosed deal with the Miami Dolphins Wednesday, April 22.

Philip RiversApr 22 05:33p

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers may be losing faith in the organization, according to NFL Network analyst and former Chargers' RB LaDainian Tomlinson. 'The parts around him keep [ More ]

Jacques McClendonApr 22 04:13p

Free-agent OG Jacques McClendon (Jaguars) signed an undisclosed deal with the Miami Dolphins Wednesday, April 22.

Adrian PetersonApr 22 02:23p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is not expected to be traded by the Vikings unless the team is overwhelmed by an offer from another team, according to a source. [ More ]

Antonio BrownApr 22 02:23p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown said he is not participating in voluntary workouts because he is spending time with his newborn child. Brown said he will report to offseason [ More ]

Marvin LewisApr 22 11:33a

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis signed a one-year extension Wednesday, April 22. He's under contract through the 2016 season.

S. RichardsonApr 21 05:23p

Kansas City Chiefs CB Shaquille Richardson (undisclosed) was released Tuesday, April 21, with a failure to disclose physical condition designation.

Adrian PetersonApr 21 01:52p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson remains a candidate to be traded, and a source close to the situation believes that if he isn't traded before or during the 2015 [ More ]

Dennis PittaApr 20 06:52p

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip) is participating in the team's voluntary conditioning program that started Monday, April 20. Pitta's career remains in doubt after fracturing his right hip [ More ]

Prince AmukamaraApr 20 05:22p

New York Giants CB Prince Amukamara (biceps) said he's about 90% recovered from a torn biceps he suffered last season.

Adrian WilsonApr 20 05:02p

Updating a previous item, free-agent SS Adrian Wilson (Bears) signed a contract to officially retire with the Arizona Cardinals.

Tim TebowApr 20 03:52p

Free-agent QB Tim Tebow (Patriots) officially signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, April 20. Financial terms were undisclosed.

Adrian PetersonApr 20 01:42p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is not in attendance for the start of the team's offseason workout program Monday, April 20, according to league sources. However, Peterson hasn't attended [ More ]

Antonio BrownApr 20 11:02a

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown is seeking a new contract and could hold out from minicamps and training camp, according to sources.

Adrian WilsonApr 20 07:22a

Free-agent SS Adrian Wilson (Bears) is expected to retire Monday, April 20, and join the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff. The Cardinals, the team Wilson played for from 2001-2012, have announced a press conference.

Tim TebowApr 19 07:42p

Free-agent QB Tim Tebow (Patriots) is expected to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, April 20.

Stefen WisniewskiApr 18 01:02p

Free-agent C Stefen Wisniewski (Raiders) signed a one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday, April 18. Financial terms were undisclosed.

Ryan JensenApr 17 05:02p

Baltimore Ravens exclusive rights free-agent TE Phillip Supernaw, SS Brynden Trawick, CB Rashaan Melvin and OT Ryan Jensen re-signed with the team Friday, April 17. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

Adrian PetersonApr 17 12:42p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson said earlier this week that he's not sure if he'll participate in the team's offseason program. Minnesota is set to start their offseason workouts [ More ]

Adrian PetersonApr 16 03:02p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson will not receive any further suspension after he is reinstated from the commissioner's exempt list, according to a source.

Adrian PetersonApr 16 02:22p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been informed that he will be reinstated from the commissioner exempt list starting Friday, April 17.

Sammy WatkinsApr 15 11:33p

Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins (hip) is able to work out in some capacity during the team's offseason program, although head coach Rex Ryan indicated Wednesday, April 15, that [ More ]

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group