Former Steelers NT Chris Hoke Says Young Defensive Players Develop Slower Due To Practice Rules

Prior to the new CBA of 2011, NFL teams used to be allowed to have grueling two-a-day practices during training camp, but now they are limited to having one full-contact padded practice per day accompanied by a walkthrough period. On the latest episode of the Craig Wolfley Podcast, this topic was discussed as it relates to undrafted players and younger players on the offseason roster not getting the necessary work in training camp.

Former Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke, who made the Steelers team as an undrafted free agent in 2001, was asked particularly to give his thoughts on the subject, being as he isn\’t too far removed from the game.

“They don\’t have the opportunities,” said Hoke. “Let me tell you why. Because you have less practices. You have less practice snaps. So you have to let the veterans take more snaps in practice, because your trying to get them ready for the regular season.

“Usually, when you have two double days, you have double days back to back to back, you can kind of let these veterans rest a little bit and let these young rookies and free agent guys step in there – which happened to me – step in and get some snaps. Now, with the limited snaps, you got to get your veterans ready to play and their taking those snaps, that in the past, the young guys would take.”

Hoke went on to talk about how it\’s tough particularly on young nose tackles and defensive ends to develop thanks in part to the new practice rules set forth in the new CBA.

“I think your also going to see these younger guys not develop as fast,” said Hoke. “The draft picks, because their not getting those snaps again. You got to get snaps. As a nose tackle, I\’m thinking for nose tackle and defensive end, because I played both, it\’s timing, and in the Dick LeBeau defense, you got to be able to get a good feel for the blocks.

“You got to get a number of snaps. If you go and get eight snaps in practice, that\’s not enough to get you familiar and get you comfortable in the defense. You got to get 15 to 20 snaps in practice and get the timing down, the handwork down, the footwork – everything. It just takes time.”

In my post last week about the Steelers lack of depth at the nose tackle position, I stated how I thought it would be pushing it to expect either Alameda Ta\’amu or Hebron Fangupo to be ready to backup starter Steve McLendon this year at nose tackle. The comments above made by Hoke further help my argument.

Last year in training camp, Ta\’amu was third string behind McLendon and starter Casey Hampton, but with Hampton on PUP until the end of training camp, the Steelers fourth-round pick was able to get extra practice snaps. It didn\’t, however, result in him getting many snaps in preseason games, something a young player on the Steelers defense really needs.

Once the season started, Hampton was back practicing and I doubt Ta\’amu received many snaps in practice as a result. The same goes for Fangupo, who was claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Seahawks very late in the season.

So, will Ta\’amu or Fangupo get enough snaps this year in training camp, especially since the team will want McLendon as sharp as possible come the start of the season? In addition, will either get a lot of work this year in the preseason because of the same reason? That will certainly be worth paying attention to.

Yes, I do believe that one of the two have a chance to become the full-time backup to McLendon over time, but I still believe that the Steelers should strongly consider re-signing Hampton for one more year in order to bridge the gap. I wonder if Hoke would with agree me.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think you sign Hampton to a minimum deal if you can because he can still be a very good player if used part time, not because Ta’amu can’t play a few snaps a game.

    I’m more concerned with McLendon being the full time starter than Ta’Amu, Fangupo or Hood playing a few backup/rotation snaps.

  • David Edward

    Hampton can still play, so signing hin for depth makes sense. However, he tends to have problems staying jn shape, and in a backup role he may struggle to keep his weight down. Whatever way they go, I think they need to keep one of the young NTs around for development, even if it has to be the PS. Otherwise, they’ll be right back in the same situation again in ’14. It’s possible that they wait to see how Taamu, Fangupo, and Hunter look in camp first.

  • costanza2k1

    That’s the deal the players wanted so now they have to deal with it.

  • Chris S

    I can see the thought behind bringing Casey back to be a backup. But wouldn’t that just put them in the same situation where the younger guys get even LESS snaps? I think I’d rather have McLendon, Ta’amu and Fangupo be the 3 on the team (if they keep 3) and go with it. Let the young guys get more experience…yes they’ll make some mistakes/etc…but thats part of the process…you cant keep going with older guys and forcing the you guys down (esp. when Ta’amu has been looked at as the potential long term guy there).

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think you could find plenty of snaps over the course of a season for McLendon while still taking advantage of Hampton in a few critical spots and letting Ta’amu or Fangupo take only low pressure snaps.

    On the other hand the team might be better using the roster spot (3rd NT) somewhere else and if the best we can hope for from Ta’amu or Fangupo is to be a back up some day maybe you go with Nick Williams and Hampton and pray for upside.

  • JohnnyV1

    That’s really a tough call. The CBA practice limit language, that the players wrote and put into the agreement, isn’t doing the young guys any favors. It’s almost as if you have to understand that the play at certain positions will suffer early in the season until these young guys get some reps. Take a step back before going forward. But you cut the young guy(s), sign Hampton, and hope you can get them on your practice squad. The CBA just doesn’t seem to be the jewel the players were hoping it would be with this and the flat salary cap.

  • Mike Foster

    It’s sink or swim time for Ta’amu of Fangupo! Ideally Mclendon gets 50% of snaps early on with the other two splitting the rest. The staff knows what Mclendon can do. If we sign Hampton, the youngsters might not make it to the practice squad or if they do, they may not last long.

  • Mike Foster

    Ta’amu was last years top rated NT coming out of the draft. He screwed the pooch off the field but hopefully he can put that behind him, live & learn. We need youth & depth, Casey only provides half of that.

  • Mike Foster

    If we keep 3 NT’s that means we would lose depth elsewhere. I think that depth is needed for WR, OLB & CB. Maybe U could do a 53 man roster projection where U show different combos at those positions? Hampton might mean the loss of Justin Brown, Adrian Robinson or Curtis Brown.

  • Agreed. McLendon is not a proven commodity. There’s a lot of hope and expectations, but that’s really about it.

    Assuming he is a future pro bowler, what happens if he goes down in week 3?

  • sounds like BS to me… this has been an issue for the Steeler’s since before the new CBA

  • Throw in the Lockout combined with the new CBA rules and it is much easier to understand why our draft classes of 2010 and 2011 have been a bit slow at developing…perhaps the position coaches have had difficulty adjusting to these new rules/practice limits as well.

  • You mean when we had Hampton and Hoke at NT??

  • steeltown

    I’ve been thinking this for a couple yrs now.. the limited practice ‘in pads’ is really hurting the players more than helping them… safety was the main reason for these guidelines and hopeful longevity throughout the season(s) but in the end, I think not only are the young guys suffering by receiving less snaps in the offseason and during the regular season practices, but everyone is suffering by not being as conditioned as in years past. You can see it happening, so many hamstring and ankle issues League wide over the last few seasons. Players are just not as conditioned and game ready as the used to be.

  • Bleed Black and Gold

    Is there any reason that the team can’t split into 2 groups to practice? I know that the younger players would not be on the field with the vets to learn from them, but they would be able to get more reps and individual practice time. The CBA is probably worded to limit them to a certain number of practices and at a set number of hours per practice, but does the whole team have to practice at the same time? This could be a solution to having more teaching time with the younger guys.

  • Bill Bob

    If he is on the roster put him in the game for a couple snaps can’t learn on the sideline sink or swim some teams rotate six or seven linemen. Even if he gets his butt kicked he is learning and you know what you have for next year.
    53 man roster use it get these players in take off the training wheels it cost to much money to sit and wait on a player then cut him or he leaves for Moe Money.If you play more players then you have backup in place. Seems like when Bill C was here cutting the roster down for the regular season was hard now its like which bum do I have to keep

  • Chris92021

    Hoke has a point. I mean, freaking high schools have two-a-days but professionals don’t? This new practice guidelines during training camp is one of the reasons why we see bad tackling. During the season, cutting back is one thing but during training camp is just stupid.