Casey Hampton was one of the best defensive tackles in Pittsburgh Steelers’ history, and not because of what he was as a pass rusher … because he wasn’t. Nope, he was strictly a two-gap nose tackle who disrupted play inside, occupied blockers and allowed linebackers to make tackles.
Sound familiar? Not to Hampton it doesn’t.
“Nobody plays the true nose-tackle position like I played it,” Hampton said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “because the game has changed so much. I mean, I was like a two-gapper all the time. That’s what I did. And I don’t think guys really do that anymore.
“I think it’s more up-the-field and get-to-the quarterback because it’s such a passing league now. So I think what I did is almost entirely extinct now. It’s still the nose-tackle position, but it’s entirely different the way they play it now.”
It was also entirely different from how Hampton played at the University of Texas, too, because he wasn’t in a 3-4 scheme. He was in a 4-3, and he played alongside defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who would go on to become a Pro Bowler with the Detroit Lions.
But that’s not all. At Texas, Hampton led the team in tackles for two seasons and piled up stats he did not … and could not … at Pittsburgh. Reason: The scheme, the position and the expectations were entirely different.
“It was definitely a tough adjustment at first,” said Hampton. “Coming from the University of Texas … you know my last couple of seasons there leading the team in tackles … then going to Pittsburgh and pretty much trying to keep the linebackers clean and being disruptive when you can.
“It was a huge adjustment, and it was something I never had to do before. But it was something I ended up taking a lot of pride in. I had a lot of great linebackers that played behind me, and it was just fun to see those guys go there out and make plays. That’s pretty much what I got my joy out of — watching those guys do their thing and watching our defense be successful.”
But it wasn’t just the defense. It was almost everyone connected to the Steelers who was successful. During Hampton’s tenure there, Pittsburgh won six division championships, went to three Super Bowls in six years, won two of them, and was among the top defenses in the NFL. And Hampton was a major factor — named to five Pro Bowls and, later, to the Steelers’ all-time team.
But that doesn’t mean going from college to the pro was easy. Because it wasn’t. As Hampton pointed out, it was “a huge adjustment,” and he wasn’t talking about the weather. He was talking about learning an unfamiliar position.
“It took awhile,” he said, “Probably took into my second year to realize every play isn’t for me to make and I’m not supposed to be out there making plays; just playing within the defense.
“It’s tough, man, when you’re used to making plays and getting up the field, and you’re pretty good at it … and they ask you to do something entirely different. But you’ve just got to be unselfish and see the bigger picture.”