Training Camp: Hampton fails running test

Tomlin says nose tackle out of shape, places Pro Bowler on PUP list until satisfied

The philosophies of Mike Tomlin and Casey Hampton clashed yesterday, prompting the Steelers coach to prohibit his Pro Bowl nose tackle from joining his teammates on the training camp practice field until he gets in shape.

Tomlin placed Hampton on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after watching him labor through five of a required eight 100-yard jogs that were part of the players' conditioning test their first day at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.

"He wasn't able to finish the test," Tomlin said. "He's overweight and he's not conditioned enough to participate at this point."

Tomlin said when he determines Hampton is in shape, he'll take him off the PUP list and allow him to practice.

"I could be in better shape," said Hampton, who the Steelers officially list on their roster at 325 pounds. "But my thing is the only way you can get into football shape is to play football. You can do all the running you want, know what I mean? You can have a guy do the run test and be the best run-test guy and he can't play football, so it doesn't matter."

Hampton, who turns 31 before the start of the season, vowed to be in shape and ready to play for the opener Sept. 7 against Houston.

"First game's in September, man, I'll be ready to play, that's all that matters," Hampton said.

Hampton, who would not say what he weighs or what Tomlin wanted him to weigh, said he weighed about the same as he did when he reported to training camp a year ago, Tomlin's first as Steelers coach. He said not only was no action taken then but he was not required to go through the run test.

"I don't think I struggle with weight, I just think my weight was never an issue, and they make a big point of weight with him," Hampton said. "But before, it's never been a thing, you know what I'm saying? I never struggled with it, it's never been a problem.

"Everybody knows I don't like the run test anyway, so it doesn't matter."

Hampton has been the team's starting nose tackle since the sixth game into his rookie season of 2001, after the Steelers drafted him in the first round from Texas. He missed only two games the past three seasons after his 2004 season ended 10 games early because of a knee injury.

Hampton, whose nickname is "Big Snack," made four Pro Bowls, including the past three, and was voted to the Steelers' 75th anniversary team last year.

He traditionally has had trouble with the first-day run tests, when he did them. In 2003, he completed the first 10 of then-coach Bill Cowher's test of 14 40-yard dashes the first day. He sat out the next three and linebacker Kendrell Bell ran two of them for him. Hampton then ran the final leg.

His weight struggles are reminiscent of those of another famous Steelers defensive tackle, Ernie (Fats) Holmes of the Steel Curtain. The most famous poor performance in a running test on the first day of training camp occurred in 1999 when tackle Jamain Stephens, the team's first-round draft choice in 1996, collapsed on the field long before the end of the test. Cowher cut Stephens that night.

The PUP list is a procedural protection for the football team. Before a first camp practice, any player can be placed on it if he has an injury or cannot pass his physical. He cannot practice but can run and lift and work to get himself back into playing condition. He does not count against the 80-man camp roster, and he can come off at any time.

If a player remains on PUP list after the final roster cut down to 53 players, he cannot play for the first six weeks of the season.

"He has to exhibit that he's in good enough condition to participate and I'll determine that," Tomlin said of Hampton.

"Hopefully, it doesn't [take him long] but I'm sure he won't wake up tomorrow and be ready to go. He has to go through a process and we've got to take him through that process. We'll just live day to day with it until he's at an acceptable level of conditioning and weight."

Hampton, laughing, said he hopes it takes him "the whole month" to return, and said he might be fresher for it at the start of the season.

"He says you have to prove yourself over again," Hampton said. "I believe in that. He's the coach and I respect him for that. I would never talk down on my coach. Obviously he feels like I'm not doing what I need to do and I need to get better at what I'm doing. So it is what it is.

"Hey, man, I know come Sept. 7, I'll be ready to play, bottom line. That's all that matters."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at . First Published July 28, 2008 4:00 AM


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