Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers we witnessed the return of Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton to the field for the first time during the preseason and he played well. Head coach Mike Tomlin hinted this past week that Big Snack had a good week of practice and that it was possible he could see some playing time and that certainly came to fruition.
Hampton, who we last saw in the loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Wild Card game last January when he tore his ACL, got the start and registered a tackle and an assist in his limited playing time. The veteran had been stating all offseason that his goal was to make it back in time for the opener against Denver, and judging by his play Thursday night, he has indeed met that goal. Perhaps more importantly, Hampton was feeling good after the game.
"It felt pretty good," Hampton said via the Beaver County Times. "I haven\'t seen full-speed action in a long time. So it was as good as it could have been. I didn\'t want to go to Denver without having any full-speed action. So it was good being out there with my teammates and getting in a little action."
Having Hampton ready now means that the Steelers will not have to rely on rookie Alameda Ta\'amu to back up Steve McLendon at Denver, and it very well could wind up that McLendon backs up Hampton instead. Regardless of who does get the start, both are expected to alternate at the position during the game as Hampton likely still needs to be on a pitch count while he continues to work on his football conditioning after missing all of training camp.
Hampton did the Steelers a huge favor this past offseason by taking a pay cut, in what figures to be his final season in Pittsburgh. Platooning Hampton with McLendon should help keep him fresh throughout the season and also save some wear and tear on McLendon in the process.
While the game Thursday night was marred by the loss of rookie linebacker Sean Spence for the season with a left knee injury, a positive thing to take away from the game is that Big Snack is indeed back.