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Steelers To Begin Season Without Hampton, Mendenhall

The Pittsburgh Steelers began mandatory mini-camp last week. Which is not to be confused with voluntary off-season team activities (OTAs) or strongly suggested rookie orientation and underwear inspection. Does anybody else remember the good old days when we had the Pro Bowl the week after the Super Bowl and that was the last we saw of the NFL until teams reported to training camp in August? Not that I blame teams for keeping their players under thumbs all year round. Less chance of them getting arrested or knocking up another half dozen women of loose morals. Call it crime and population control, NFL-style.

I generally don’t cover the goings-on at these get half-assed scrimmages because some rookie breaking loose for a 55 yard touchdown while being covered by some undrafted free agent playing in a t-shirt and shorts doesn’t indicate anything of particular relevance to the upcoming season. However, there was one bit of news which does. General Manager Kevin Colbert has been making the media rounds to discuss some of what we’ve been seeing at mini-camp. Or, in the case of disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace, what we’re not seeing, which is him showing up like everybody else instead of being a selfish prick.

Colbert mentioned that injured nose tackle Casey Hampton and injured running back Rashard Mendenhall are progressing slowly from major injuries late in the season and he expects both to begin the 2012 season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. This is significant for a couple of reasons. Not the least of which are NFL rules that mandate any player on the PUP list must sit out the first six games of the regular season. Six games, not weeks, which means neither man will be eligible to return until the Steelers face RGIII and the new look Redskins in week 8.

The good news is that the Steelers are well stocked at both NT and RB while they await their eventual return. To his credit, Big Snack has been working diligently with rookie Alameda Ta’amu, the man many expect will be his heir apparent. I don’t see a rookie starting for the Steelers D, even if the nose tackle’s primary job is to be fat and clog up the middle, so look to Steve McClendon as the odds on favorite to start in Hamp’s place. Which isn’t to say they won’t work Ta’amu into the mix and, if he shows the ability many of us feel he has, steadily increase his playing time as time goes on.

The running back position is even deeper while the bar set by the man they’re trying to replace is even lower. In fact, many wondered why the Steelers didn’t go to more of a shared backfield last season when Mendy repeatedly failed to get the job done. Running game by committee seems to becoming the rule rather than the exception in today’s NFL so let’s hope new offensive coordinator Todd Haley does a better a job spreading the wealth. Isaac Redman will be the team’s primary back but his power running style, while pleasing to fans of Stiller Football, doesn’t offer much big play potential. Rookie Chris Rainey and Baron Batch, with their pass catching skills and big play ability, will be looked at as possible third down backs. And then there are John Clay and Jon Dwyer, who offer depth along with versatility.