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Steelers' Hampton eager to expand horizons

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By Scott Brown
Friday, Aug. 3, 2007
 

The guy whose nickname is "Big Snack" admits that he'd like more chances to feast on quarterbacks this season.

"I would like to play a little more 4-3 (defense), make me some plays," said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton, who hasn't recorded a sack in the regular season since 2003. "I'll do whatever they ask me to do, but it would be nice to switch it up a little bit."

The biggest impediment to the seven-year veteran playing more 4-3 -- the defense head coach Mike Tomlin learned under mentor Tony Dungy -- is Hampton himself. He is a perfect fit in the 3-4 defense that has become as associated with Pittsburgh as Heinz and Iron City beer, and Hampton has been the quintessential nose tackle since the Steelers took him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

Squat but powerful, Hampton is harder to move than Enron stock. He occupies multiple blockers on any given play and may be the biggest reason, both literally and figuratively, why the Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since November 2005.

Hampton's job of clogging the middle is hardly glamorous, and it can be downright dangerous with offensive linemen coming at him from different angles.

But he has become so good at standing his ground that Hampton been named to three Pro Bowls since 2004. He is such a respected player in his own locker room that defensive end Brett Keisel said Hampton could emerge as the leader on defense now that Joey Porter is gone.

"He is the anchor of our defense, and if he doesn't do his job everything falls apart," Keisel said. "There's no one in the league that I've watched that can take on men like he does. I've said this before: When God built a nose tackle, he built Casey Hampton."

When told what Keisel said, Hampton grinned and quipped, "If he built a short, fat guy, I guess that's what a nose tackle is."

Teammates gravitate toward the 6-foot-1, 325-pounder because of his self-deprecating sense of humor and because he does what is essentially a thankless job (he had just 33 tackles last season) and does it as well as anyone in the game.

While not nearly as vocal as Porter, Hampton said he will dress down a teammate if he thinks that player needs it.

"Everybody knows how I am, so they don't take it the wrong way if I call them out in front of everybody," said Hampton, who got married during the offseason. "I've been doing that since I've been here."

What he hasn't done is get a chance to rush the quarterback much.

Hampton, who turns 30 in early September, has just five career sacks.

Interior linemen get much more of an opportunity to rush the passer in a 4-3 defense, but there is a question of whether a player who has become so valuable because he is all but immovable can move well enough to get after the quarterback.

"In a 4-3, he'd be a demon," Steelers assistant head coach and defensive line coach John Mitchell said. "He has the speed to get up the field."

Now, he just wants to use it a little.

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