2015 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

Arian FosterAug 4 02:53p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) will undergo surgery on his injured groin. He should return during the season, however.

Arian FosterAug 4 02:23p

Updating a previous report, Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) may need surgery on his injured groin.

Arian FosterAug 4 01:33p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) suffered a groin injury during the team's first fully padded practice Monday, Aug. 3, according to sources.

Terrance WestAug 4 10:52a

Cleveland Browns RB Terrance West appears to be on thin ice because of maturity issues, and his conditioning is a question, according to ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi.

Doug MartinAug 3 09:32p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin was confirmed as the team's lead back Monday, Aug. 3, by head coach Lovie Smith. 'We talked about being able to establish the [ More ]

L. WashingtonAug 3 07:22p

Free-agent WR L'Damian Washington signed with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, Aug. 3.

Senquez GolsonAug 3 07:12p

Pittsburgh Steelers CB Senquez Golson (shoulder) told ESPN Monday, Aug. 3, he might need surgery on an injured shoulder, and he will find out in the next few days. [ More ]

Ace SandersAug 3 07:02p

Free-agent WR Ace Sanders (Jaguars) was suspended 10 games by the NFL Monday, Aug. 3, for a second violation of the league's drug policy.

Stephen HillAug 3 05:52p

Free-agent WR Stephen Hill (knee) was placed on Reserve/Injured Monday, Aug. 3, after being waived/injured Sunday, Aug. 2.

Michael EgnewAug 3 05:42p

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Michael Egnew was released Monday, Aug. 3.

Kevin ConeAug 3 05:42p

Cleveland Browns WR Kevin Cone was waived Monday, Aug. 3.

Timothy FlandersAug 3 05:22p

Free-agent RB Timothy Flanders (Saints) signed with the Cleveland Browns Monday, Aug. 3.

Jalen ParmeleAug 3 04:52p

Free-agent RB Jalen Parmele (Cardinals) was signed by the Cleveland Browns Monday, Aug. 3.

Kyle WilliamsAug 3 04:42p

Denver Broncos WR Kyle Williams (Achilles') was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Monday, Aug. 3. WR Corbin Louks was subsequently signed.

Matt ElamAug 3 03:32p

Updating a previous report, Baltimore Ravens FS Matt Elam (biceps) will have surgery on his torn biceps soon and will officially be out for the season.

Michael JohnsonAug 3 02:32p

Updating a previous report, Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson (knee) will be out four weeks with a grade 2 medial collateral ligament sprain.

Matt ElamAug 3 11:12a

Baltimore Ravens FS Matt Elam (arm) will likely miss the entire 2015 season with a torn biceps muscle suffered during a full-contact practice Sunday, Aug. 2.

Stephen HillAug 2 08:02p

The Carolina Panthers waived WR Stephen Hill (knee) after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament Sunday, Aug. 2.

Terrelle PryorAug 2 07:52p

Cleveland Browns WR Terrelle Pryor took reps with the first-team offense during training camp Sunday, Aug. 2.

Martavis BryantAug 2 04:22p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Martavis Bryant (elbow) will undergo a procedure for an elbow infection that will cause him to miss the Hall of Fame Game Sunday, Aug. 9, against [ More ]

Michael EgnewAug 2 03:02p

The Pittsburgh Steelers have released TE Michael Egnew.

Tony McDanielAug 2 12:12p

The Seattle Seahawks released DT Tony McDaniel Sunday, Aug. 2. McDaniel should quickly find a new home.

Stephen HillAug 2 12:02p

Carolina Panthers WR Stephen Hill (knee) has an ACL injury, according to assistant head coach Steve Wilks Sunday, Aug. 2.

Sam BradfordAug 2 11:52a

Philadelphia Eagles QB Sam Bradford (knee) has been cleared for 11-on-11 drills Sunday, Aug. 2, and head coach Chip Kelly told reporters the quarterback doesn't have any restrictions.

Stephen HillAug 2 10:12a

The Carolina Panthers signed free-agent WR Paul Browning Sunday, Aug. 2. Browning is expected to take WR Stephen Hill's roster spot.

Brandon BoykinAug 1 08:12p

The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired CB Brandon Boykin from the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday, Aug. 1, in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Eagles could [ More ]

Kyle WilliamsAug 1 02:22p

Denver Broncos WR Kyle Williams (Achilles') suffered at least a partially torn Achilles' tendon in practice Saturday, Aug. 1, according to a source. He may be out for the season.

Melvin GordonAug 1 02:12p

San Diego Chargers RB Melvin Gordon has struggled with pass protection through the first three days of training camp.

Devin SmithJul 31 09:32p

New York Jets WR Devin Smith (ribs) will miss a majority of training camp after suffering broken ribs Friday, July 31, according to the team. He will be held [ More ]

Bashaud BreelandJul 31 07:42p

Washington Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland (knee) is expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks because of a knee injury he suffered during practice Friday, July 31.

Bashaud BreelandJul 31 07:22p

Washington Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland has been suspended one game by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Breeland received a citation for marijuana possession last year.

Jason Pierre-PaulJul 31 06:22p

New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul (hand) is not allowed to use his injured hand while it is healing from the fireworks accident he had earlier this month. Pierre-Paul [ 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