It is no real surprise that Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton could possibly start the 2012 regular season on the reserve PUP list. Hampton, who just this past week said that his goal is to be ready by week one, is still not five full months removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL he suffered against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Wild Card Game. While Hampton does not need the same cutting ability that running back Rashard Mendenhall will need before he is ready to return, he could certainly benefit from the extra six weeks recovery time at the start of the season.
With the prospects of Hampton beginning the year on PUP, comes the availability of a roster spot for another young defensive lineman to grab. Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta\’amu will occupy five of what could be seven defensive line spots on the Steelers 53 man roster, so that leaves two possible spots up for grabs, if indeed Hampton starts the season on PUP.
Let\’s have a look at the candidates.
Al Woods – The Steelers snatched the former fourth round pick of the New Orleans Saints off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks last season and stashed him their 53 man roster the remainder of the year. While Woods did not see any defensive snaps since arriving in Pittsburgh, defensive line coach John Mitchell has had quite a bit of time to break him down and start building him into a 3-4 defensive end. You haven\’t heard the name of Woods much this past off-season, but that is not surprising with all the focus being on Hood and McLendon thus far. It is easy to see why Woods would appear to have the inside shot at one of two possible open defensive line spots.
Corbin Bryant – Bryant, according to several members of the media last year, had a great training camp and many were predicting that he would make the 53 man roster. He didn\’t, but instead landed on the practice squad. When Aaron Smith was placed on injured reserve, Bryant was promoted for the game against the Arizona Cardinals, where he saw a handful of snaps. His stay on the 53 did not last long as he was waived the following week due to more injuries to the Steelers linebacker corps. Bryant made it back to practice squad, where he finished out the season. Like Woods, he figures to be a strong candidate for one of the two possible open defensive line spots.
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun – The Southern Connecticut undrafted free agent is the second-youngest player on the roster and has an uphill battle ahead of him with Woods and Bryant ahead of him on the depth chart. Ike, as he is often called, is an agile bull-rushing defensive end with speed that likely still has a lot of coaching ahead of him from Mitchell when the team arrives at Latrobe. He will have to show that he was an overlooked small school talent that can handle NFL talent first and foremost. His reps will be limited in camp, so he will have to make sure that he flashes in preseason games if he is to have any shot at the 53 man roster.
The Rest – Defensive end Jake Stoller and nose tackle Kade Weston are extreme longshots not only for the 53 man roster, but the practice squad as well. If Weston is viewed as merely a nose tackle, he has no chance whatsoever as the Steelers have Hood who can move over the nose should something happen to both McLendon or the rookie Ta\’amu. Stoller figures to be behind Woods, Bryant and Igbinosun on the depth chart and that means minimal reps in camp for him.
Should the Steelers decide to carry just six defensive linemen instead of seven until Hampton returns from PUP, it should be a battle between Woods and Bryant for the sixth spot. Keep in mind that Bryant has practice squad eligibility, while Woods does not. That could play into the final decision if only six defensive linemen are carried on the 53 to start the season and Hampton indeed starts on PUP.