Steelers Lack Experienced Depth At The Nose Tackle Position

The Pittsburgh Steelers did right by signing nose tackle Steve McLendon to a three year contract a few weeks ago. The former undrafted free agent out of Troy finally graduated from Mitchell University and deserves a chance to start in 2013. Now that we have that out of the way, what about the depth at the nose tackle position behind McLendon?

The Steelers currently have Alameda Ta\’amu, their fourth-round draft pick from 2012, and Hebron Fangupo, who was claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Seahawks late last December, currently on the roster. Neither, however, have taken a regular season snap with the Steelers since they both arrived in Pittsburgh.

Training camp is a time when younger players get the most of their training and the most of their snaps. Once the season starts, however, those snaps dimish quickly as the practices are mostly centered around the team preparing their starters for the week ahead. Thanks to Ta\’amu\’s off the field problems last year, and Fangupo\’s late arrival to the team, how much quality time do you suppose that both received with defensive line coach John Mitchell? I\’m willing to bet that whatever the amount of time was, it wasn\’t nearly enough.

McLendon, who is regarded as a player with a pretty high football IQ with a strong work ethic, still took four seasons to develop. Granted, he was stuck behind starter Casey Hampton and backup Chris Hoke for several years, but it wasn\’t until last season until the team felt comfortable enough with him to be the primary backup.

Fangupo, prior to him being brought in via waivers, saw all of seven snaps on the defensive side of the ball with the Seahawks last season. Seven. That\’s only seven more than Ta\’amu played last year if you are scoring at home. It would be absolutely foolish to expect either of the two to be ready to backup to McLendon in 2013 based on everything that has transpired with each up until this point.

Sure, Hampton was able to start by late October of his rookie season, but trust me when I say that neither Ta\’amu nor Fangupo are close to being the player that Hampton was when he was a rookie. So if indeed that is the case, the Steelers will likely carry either Ta\’amu or Fangupo on the 53 man roster as a third nose tackle, but they will still need a backup to McLendon.

By now you certainly know where I am going with all of this. Like or not, Hampton is the best available free agent nose tackle on the market right now and it just so happens that the Steelers have yet to give out jersey No. 98.

While Hampton certainly has shown signs of slowing down, I believe that he has one more season left in him and that he would be a perfect backup in 2013 to McLendon. God forbid should McLendon go down with an injury, at least the Steelers would have an experienced player in Hampton to take his place, as opposed to inexperienced players such as Ta\’amu or Fangupo.

Hampton, by the time June rolls around and the Steelers free up another $5.5 million in salary cap space, ought to come cheap. Also, having an experienced player such as Hampton back in the fold would afford Mitchell even more time to work with both Ta\’amu and Fangupo during training camp as both McLendon and Hampton already know the nose tackle position, and the defensive end positions for that matter, by now.

Steelers safety Ryan Clark likely said it best on Monday when he was a guest on the ESPN show NFL Live when asked who he thought was the best free agent still available on the market right now.

“I\’m going to be a homer here, but Casey Hampton,” said Clark. “If we\’re talking about guys who can come in situationally, and you talk about first and second down being a nose tackle, always doing his job, always taking two to keep those middle linebackers free, that\’s what Casey does. And also, he will be more of a bargain than the type of money that Dwight Freeney is asking for.”

Homerish? Absolutely, but Clark\’s description of Hampton being a great situational free agent is right on the mark and the Steelers would be smart to bring him back for one more year because of that.

  • zyzak

    McLendon has had difficulty stopping the run, Casey was always the best at that. They best bring him back and draft a NT next year in the first rd.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I knew we would see this post as soon as White was injured.

  • If Hampton can still play then why haven’t one of the 14 or so 3/4 defenses in the NFL signed him yet? I haven’t even heard of him going around on visits. I think it’d probably be best if he was brought back for another year, but at the same time I’m sick of these old dudes getting in the way of younger talent. Lets move on already!

  • SteelerDave

    I agree. Let McLendon take the helm and go with our youth as back-ups. Sadle big snack’s times in the league is done.

  • TheBlitz

    I’m with you guys. Let’s ride McLendon at NT and have Ta’amu and Fangupo back him up. If McLendon goes down then Hampton is just a phone call away.

    I agree that Ta’amu and Fangupo are not exactly studs at the position but it’s time to play these guys and see what they have in the tank even if we have to endure another losing season in the process (meaning missing the PO). They can only get better by logging in more playing time.

    If they don’t get it by the time the season ends, then move on and draft the next NT.

  • mokhkw

    Apparently Big Snack doesn’t want to go anywhere else because he’s concerned that other Coaches will ask him to do too much in the offseason whereas in Pittsburgh he knows that he’ll be looked after by a Vet friendly staff. At least that’s what some of the talking heads have been saying this OS which leads me to think he will be re-signed in June.

    I’m all for getting young talent on the field but they have to earn it & beat out the old guys. Hampton started last year poorly coming off injury and I think that in the Week 2 Jets game they put McLendon in and gave him a chance to take the job but unfortunately he was no better than Hampton was at the time. At least that’s the impression I got when rewatching the game a few months ago.

  • mokhkw

    Was really surprised that they didn’t grab a NT at some point in this year’s draft tbh. It was the deepest group of NTs I can ever recall but I understand that we had a lot of needs & only so many picks.

    I’ve heard some media types suggest that if Hampton doesn’t return in 2013 that the Steelers Staff may push of Ta’amu to start over McLendon. I haven’t seen enough -or any – of Ta’amu at an NFL level to suggest that should happen but I think it does show that NT is an area of concern if Hampton doesn’t return for 2013.

    FWIW I thought Big Snack played better in the last half of 2012 than he did in 2011 before getting hurt in the POs & think he can do it for one more year, especially with the changes to the down-blocking rules this OS.

  • steeltown

    I sort of agree here.. Hampton would be a solid, cheap and experienced backup to McLendon this season, but sometimes I just don’t understand the learning curve in Pittsburgh.. this will be the 2nd offseason and training camp for Ta’amu.. you mean to tell me after 2 training camps and an entire 2nd preseason that he cant hold down a BACKUP spot?

    Players at every other position (except maybe QB) would be given the chance to be a ‘backup’ after two yrs of learning and grooming and offseason training… I know there is lots of technique to learn, especially holding your gap, but taking on blockers is taking on blockers and the best way to learn is in-game experience

    ……just saying

  • steeltown

    Exactly, I said above.. after 2 offseasons, training camps and an entire 2nd preseason they should know if Ta’amu is capable of being a backup. Its not like he has to be the starter right away. Let McLendon play the 1st Qtr in preseason and then give the reins to Ta’amu and mix in Fangupo…. in-game experience is important.

    These guys, especially Ta’amu, should be able to hold down a BACKUP spot….. if not, then call Hampton

  • steeltown

    Ha.. Ta’amu start over McLendon.. those ‘media types’ are insane sometimes

  • NW86

    I disagree. If Ta’amu or Fangupo can’t even be a BACKUP yet, then why keep them on the team? How many teams even carry 3 NT’s on their roster? I know the Steelers have in the past but that was when Hoke was backup, he also backed up the DE position, and they were developing McLendon. Last year they were developing Ta’amu at #3 as a rookie. Carrying a 3rd NT, who will be inactive every week and won’t even play special teams, may not be a luxury the Steelers have with their 53 man roster this year. Better to keep an extra DB, LB, or WR that can play special teams.

  • Chris92021

    Which is why Snacks will likely be signed around training camp time to a one year deal.

  • HarryBackside

    That’s ok.If the Steelers spend as much time in their nickel D as last year, then you won’t see a lot of zero tech anyhow.

  • Pete

    Have to agree with you there but maybe the coaching staff don’t see enough from them to give them more snaps. Dontari Poe started every game last season and while he was raw to begin with, he ended up winning the Chiefs Rookie of the Year award. I’m not saying Ta’amu or Fangupo are Poe but you’d expect whoever the backup is going to be to get some snaps to gain experience. I hope they sort that out soon.

  • David Edward

    I think Hampton is a guy they can bring back and plug in if need be, provided he keeps himself in shape. I think a lot depends on how the young guys look. Rashad-White already came in out of shape. Taamu looked very soft last year and will need drastic improvement. We’ll see if Hunter has anything to offer as a UDFA. Fangupo could be the wild card. He was a guy they liked last year but they had already taken Taamu. It’s possible that they bring back Snack, but they still need to keep one of they other guys around for the future one way or another even if on the PS.

  • AT was a drunk last year. It is amazing how much a person can physically and mentally come alive when they put that garbage behind them. By all accounts and weekly testing, he has not even had a sip since then. The Steelers obviously think he can be the back up or he would be long gone.

  • SteelSpine

    Yep. Good point.

    I look at our DL need like our OL need in that we simply didn’t have enough draft picks to draft for every need this year, something (positions) was going to have to be neglected in our draft. So that’s why I’m fine with our draft results. If we drafted a NT to not have to worry about Taamu being 1 strike away from 1-year suspension, we woulda had to neglect a position of high need. So we have to rely on the backup NTs we have (Taamu & Fang) for the same reason we have to rely on the OLinemen we already have & same reason we couldn’t upgrade at DE.

  • SteelSpine

    Good point/catch that if Hampton is still fine then why haven’t we heard of other teams trying to sign Hampt.

    Steelers staff keeps Steeler vets longer because vets know LeBeau’s system. In the past guys with the Steelers were asked about DLinemen of ours replied so&so DLineman was/is always in the right position:
    – They said that about Aaron Smith who we therefore kept too long – Aaron’s last 2 seasons waiting to heal tied-up a roster spot.
    – Mundy was kept too long just because he knew LeBeau’s system.
    – Steelers will probly re-sign Ziggy because coaches don’t wanna do the hassle/work/time of teach LeBeau’s system to a new Steeler.

    So if McClen gets injured (knock on wood), Steelers will try to take the easy way out which is bring back Hamp insteda use Taamu/Fang who coaches think will be lost in LeBeau’s system. It’s the one/only downside of LeBeau.

  • SteelSpine

    Yep the knock on supposed learning curve of our defensive system comes up every year:

    – Remember Will Allen before last season was not given a chance to fill in for Polo or Clark injured, Steelers instead sucked with Mundy because Mundy “knew the system”. How many games could we have avoided before last year watching Mundy by instead playing Will Allen at either safety.

    – Remember last offseason the plan was to start Chris Carter at ROLB & we did the first handful of games, & the reason is Robinson & Brandon Johnson etc hadn’t been on the team the previous season.

    Waiting so long is a quirk of the Steelers I wonder if other teams take that long before a DLineman especially can start. But then the overall defensive ranking of those other teams aren’t as good as LeBeau ends up every year.

  • steeltown

    True.. the overall success of the Defense speaks for itself
    BUT we all know hands on experience is the best experience to gain. I personally think Ta’amu could and should be the backup this season… unless of course he has a terrible showing in preseason

  • Mike Foster

    Is position flexibility only for the o-line? Hood could play NT & Mclendon can play DE. I imagine Al Woods could do the same & may need to to make the roster. Love Snack but put a fork in him, he’s done! Ta’amu as the backup & Fangupo on the practice squad is best case scenario. We got lucky last year with Mclendon being hidden on the bench.

  • Mike Foster

    I think our Defense as a whole needs more of a rotation, front 7 & secondary! Some of these rookies & younger players need to step up, get coached up (coaches get paid to coach!), & contribute asap! No more redshirt years or special teams only contributors!

  • McClenden has never been bad against the run. As a matter of fact the last two years the steelers give up less ypc and more attempts, while Mcclendon is in.