Steelers' Ta'amu has kept pounds off
By Mark Kaboly
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Casey Hampton arrived at training camp so overweight a few years ago that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin banished him to the physically-unable-to-perform list for two weeks.
Steelers' fourth-round pick Alameda Ta'amu can relate, but the heir apparent to Hampton at nose tackle believes the times of him “sitting on my butt all day” are well behind him.
“(Weight) was an issue my first two years of college,” Ta'amu said. “I knew I had to change my ways.”
At a position where bigger is always better, unbeknownst to him, Ta'amu took that to the extreme during his freshman year at the University of Washington.
While becoming a Parade All-American at Rainier Beach High School his senior year, the 17-year-old Ta'amu played at a hefty 330 pounds but still was able to create havoc with his unusual athleticism until a broken foot forced him to the sideline for the final two games.
After two months of healing, Ta'amu decided to play in the Offense-Defense All-American Game at the Orange Bowl, where he re-injured the foot, preventing him from working out.
Between January and July, Ta'amu gained more than 50 pounds.
“After the season, he started to eat and didn't work out much and he just ballooned up,” said Mark Haley, Ta'amu's high school coach. “He kind of couldn't do a whole lot, so he just sat around and ate.”
When Ta'amu arrived for the first day of training camp at Washington, he stepped on a scale for the first time in months.
“The scale kept going up, so I hopped off and said: ‘Hold on, hold on, man,' ” Ta'amu said. “I went into college thinking I was 330 or 340.”
Instead, he weighed 380.
“I didn't even know I was that big,” Ta'amu said.
Despite coming to camp out of shape, Ta'amu dropped 50 pounds and contributed as a true freshman, starting five games and posting 21 tackles.
Ta'amu never had an issue with his weight since. He's been as low as 320 pounds and weighed in at this past weekend's rookie minicamp at 346.
The Steelers aren't worried about any weight issues from Ta'amu.
“Here, with the nutrition plan we have in place and with working every day, that's not going to be a problem,” defensive line coach John Mitchell said. “It doesn't bother me.”
More of an issue is Ta'amu getting used to the switch from defensive end to nose tackle in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme.
Ta'amu is required to occupy blocks with his wide frame and stay gap-sound rather than use his athleticism to make plays. He found out at minicamp that's not as easy as it might seem.
“I got to the quarterback on one play, but the coaches told me that we are a gap team and we don't need a Superman,” Ta'amu said
That's definitely a change from the norm for Ta'amu. He's accustomed to using his quickness and power — more than his size — to his advantage.
Haley still recalls a series of plays from Ta'amu during his senior year in high school that were stunning.
“The first one he made a stop on the opposite side of the field for no gain,” Haley said. “The next play, he sacked the quarterback about 10 yards back, and the third play he ran down their running back 35 yards down the field.”
Ta'amu's athleticism for such a large man got him noticed nationally during his junior year of college.
Starting all 13 games and more than doubling the previous season's tackle numbers, he finished with 39 tackles, including five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks, and tended to play his best against top competition.
In one mock draft before his senior year, Ta'amu was projected as the 17th overall pick.
“Coming into my senior year, everybody had expectations of what I was going to do,” said Ta'amu, who never had more than five tackles in a game during his senior year. “I did my job and allowed the people around me to make plays.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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