Hampton senses his time is up with Steelers
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Casey Hampton laughed yesterday and so did coordinator Dick LeBeau over the "report" on the NFL Network that the four-time Pro Bowl nose tackle could be cut or traded before the start of the season.
That has as good a chance of happening as did the signing of Michael Vick by the Steelers.
What's not a laughing matter is that this could be Hampton's last season here and, the way he spoke yesterday, it likely will be his last with the Steelers.
Let Hampton connect the dots.
"Yeah, it's coming down to that," Hampton said. "If they don't do contracts during the season, then that'll make me a free agent."
"If I get to free agency, man, I mean everybody knows what it is. So I don't need to say something about that. If they let me get to free agency, everybody knows what it's going to be, so there's no need to even talk about it."
Did someone say talk? There has been nothing of the kind on a contract extension for Hampton, one of six starters who will play under their final contract year in 2009. He actually will earn less in salary this season than last, more than $700,000 less. His salary for 2009 is $3,075,000. It was $3.8 million last season.
At that, he looks like a bargain, even as he turns 32 years old tomorrow. He is one year older than defensive end Brett Keisel, who now makes more than Hampton after signing his new contract Monday for five years and nearly $19 million with a $5 million signing bonus.
The Steelers also could put the franchise tag on Hampton next season, which would require a one-year contract of more than $6 million.
"They ain't going to do that," Hampton insisted. "It ain't going to happen."
Hampton does not want to think about why the Steelers signed his linemate -- who has not made a Pro Bowl --and not him, and he does not want to think about what might happen after the season.
"All that don't matter, man," Hampton said. "My main focus is going back to the Super Bowl. I ain't no selfish guy, I've never been a selfish guy since I've been here. I've always been a team guy, and my main focus is to get back to the Super Bowl, helping these guys and showing them how to work and get back to it. We can't get complacent like we were last time. That's my goal."
Yet there are times he just cannot help himself.
"Being here this long and just being here and playing for them this period of time, I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't bother me because I do want to be here. You know what I'm saying? And I would like the security of being here, but I understand it's a business."
Hampton might no longer have to carry around a tag as a two-down player because the Steelers have expanded his role.
Offenses long ago found a way to get the 350-and-something run-stopper off the field and thwart the Steelers' strategy with their nickel and dime defenses. They would send three receivers onto the field, the Steelers would respond with a nickel and dime defense, sending Hampton to the sideline, and then the offense would call a run.
LeBeau has put in a package in which Hampton stays on the field in some shorter passing situations.
"A lot of teams last year tried to put us in a nickel defense and stuff like that, run the ball on us," Hampton said. "So they have new packages where I play on third-down defenses a lot more, so I'm looking forward to it."
That does not sound like plans for a guy they want to get rid of.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons has a high ankle sprain that has left his status for the Steelers' season opener Sept. 10 against Tennessee in doubt.
Timmons yesterday walked around the team's training facility in a protective boot on his injured left foot. Coach Mike Tomlin has ruled him out of the game tomorrow night at Carolina and said his focus is to try to get him healthy for the opener.
Timmons, Tomlin's first draft choice after he became head coach in 2007, has replaced Larry Foote as the starting mack inside linebacker. Last season, he served as the nickel linebacker and started two games at outside linebacker because of injuries.
Sept. 10 would be his first start in a regular-season game at inside linebacker. Keyaron Fox will replace him tomorrow night and would start if Timmons is unable to play in the opener.
Since they will get most of the playing time tomorrow night, the young players and backups are the ones who practiced the most yesterday.
There's still time for someone to make the team, Tomlin said, but there will be no time after tomorrow night. Tomlin will hold his news conference Friday and is expected to announce most of the cuts. Teams must reach the 53-man roster by Saturday afternoon.
Among those not practicing yesterday were running back Willie Parker and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, neither of whom played Saturday, running back Carey Davis, tight end-fullback Sean McHugh and quarterback Dennis Dixon.
First Published September 2, 2009 12:00 am