The return of tackle Max Starks to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday following his knee checking out well with the team doctors is certainly encouraging news in regard to nose tackle Casey Hampton. While Starks, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee just 6 months ago, might very well still start training camp on the Active PUP list, it seems likely he will be ready to play by week 1 of the regular season at the latest.
Hampton, who most definitely will start camp on the Active PUP list as he continues to rehab from his torn ACL, might very well end up meeting his target date of a return for week 1. Hampton had his surgery about two weeks or so after Starks had his, so he figures to be about two or three weeks away from what hopefully will be a doctor visit to clear him for a return to limited action like Starks.
Hampton has already been spotted doing work on side during the Steelers OTA and mini-camp sessions, and while looking mighty gimpy in some short video shot by Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the time, it is important to remember that that was several weeks ago now.
Hampton was not shy about telling the media back in June that he will not miss taking part in training camp, but also added that he does not see himself starting the season on the Reserve PUP list either. “Nah, I can’t see that happening,” Hampton said, when asked if anyone has mentioned to him starting the season on PUP. “I feel like I’m ready to go.”
“I’m planning on coming back for the season,” Hampton said at the time. “That’s what I’m looking at. That’s realistic for me. I don’t know about anybody else.”
The Steelers have plenty of time to make a final decision on Hampton, as he does not need to be moved to the Reserve PUP list until the final roster moves are made just prior to the start of the regular season. Even if he is not ready for week 1, he could be close enough to warrant a spot on the 53 man roster if the doctors feel he is just a few weeks away from returning. If he winds up being placed on the Reserve PUP though, he must sit out the first 6 weeks of the season.
Even if Hampton is ready by week 1, the Steelers don\’t have to rush him into action, as Steve McLendon will most likely get the start in Denver regardless. Should McLendon start the season off well as the starter, it will give Hampton even more time to recover and serve as the backup to McLendon initially.
Hampton did the Steelers a humongous favor this offseason by taking a pay cut and the reduction saved the team $3.09 million in cap space this year as a result. Despite the reduction though, Hampton is still scheduled to count nearly $4.97 million against the cap this year and the Steelers surely would like to dress him for as many games as possibly, in what figures to be his final year in Pittsburgh.
All of the above said, Hampton will not be pushed back onto the field until he is ready. This is the third such injury the soon to be 35 year-old Hampton has had to recover from over the course of his college and pro career, so he should know what it takes to rehab properly.
The week 1 game in Denver is scheduled for September 9th, so that would put Hampton well over 7 months removed from his surgery. While he is older than Starks, it is not out of the question that he can be ready by week 1 or even week 2 at the latest.