Starks Return From His ACL Injury Makes Hampton Week 1 Return Fathomable

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.

  • Not sure if a week one return is in his best interests. Doesn’t Denver have a certain reputation for blocking “practices” that are especially problematic for the knees of defensive linemen?

  • SteelersDepot

    As I pointed out in the post, regardless of where Hampton is health wise in week 1, McLendon will start. Hampton likely inactive.

  • My apologies for not being more precise in my comprehension. Of course you stated that quite clearly, and I appreciate the quality of your reports. Mea culpa.
    Is it true, though, that the Broncos have developed a reputation for blocking that is particularly injurious to defensive linemen’s knees? Or is this just another fan-fueled myth (or a delusion on my part)?

  • chris dimarino

    I know they have a zone blocking scheme. So instead of having a player that you are responsible for blocking, you have a zone (similiar to man vs zone coverages). Accordingly, Offensive Lineman are more flat footed and prone to getting surprised leading to cut blocks becoming more necessary. I’ve always been apprehensive about cut blocks and its propensity to cause lower body injuries. But currently in the NFL it’s only illegal if the cutee is engaged by another blocker. Hope this helps.

  • Tom Geer

    It’s Shanahan teams that have the bad rep.

  • David Schellhaas

    An interesting thing to take from the claims of these guys — saying that they’re expecting to not start the season on the PUP list — is the progress of Mendenhall. From what I understand, bigger guys like linemen require a longer recovery time from injuries to their knees. If this is the case, and Starks and Hampton are claiming they should be okay, it’s not unreasonable to assume we’ll be seeing Mendenhall active week 1. He is not only lighter than these guys but also much younger and more likely to heal sooner. For what it’s worth his injury was also a week ahead of theirs.

  • Ahmad

    I can see Hampton being on the 53 man roster but seeing very limited snaps for the first couple weeks of the season to get his legs back underneath him.

  • Ahmad

    Maybe so but Mendy depends on cutting and agility way more than Hampton and Starks do. So Mendy being active by Week 1 will have to be a miracle.

  • SteelersDepot

    Colbert has stated that olinemen & defensive linemen can return quicker than running backs because they do not need to stop and cut as much. I would be floored beyond belief if Mendenhall does not start the regular season on the PUP list.

  • mokhkw

    Nailed it…OL don’t have to put up with the Marshall Yandas’ of the world aiming at your knee with their helmet; Hampton won’t be back until he is 100%, probably around week 6-8. BTW, these “legal hi-lo blocks” are the stupidest rule change the NFL has ever introduced & makes them look like hypocrites or just simply ignorant.

  • mokhkw

    Not quite correct – OL can combo “cut block” if the OL are positioned nest to each other (C+G, G+T). See last season’s week 1 game vs the Ravens (watch Yanda) for plenty of examples. AFAIK, this new “legal hi-lo block” rule has beeen in place for 2 seasons.