October 21, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton (98) tackles Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) in the backfield at Paul Brown Stadium. Pittsburgh won the game 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Longhorn Alumni: Casey Hampton

Former All-American defensive lineman Casey Hampton wrapped up a 12-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2012 season.  Hampton, a 5-time pro-bowler, was the center of Dick Lebeau’s defense.

Casey Hampton was recruited to Texas from Ball High School in his hometown of Galveston, Texas.  He is the only football player in the history of Ball High School to have his number retired, an honor he received in 2009.  He played at Texas from 1997 through 2000, including Mack Brown’s first three seasons at UT.

After appearing in limited action as a freshman in 1997, Hampton started every game at defensive tackle as a sophomore in 1998.  He was honored with the Most Consistent Defensive Player award, which has either been mercifully re-named or is no longer awarded.  Hampton was one of the best players in the country in 1999 and again in 2000, and was recognized as an All-American in both seasons.  He was the 2000 Big XII defensive player of the year.

Texas won 9 games each of Hampton’s three seasons as a starter.  They won the 1998 Cotton Bowl.

Hampton left UT as a probable first round pick, but the kind of scheme he would play in was an issue at the next level.  Hampton lined up in college next to Shaun Rogers.  He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 19th pick in the 2001 draft, and asked to bulk up and handle the nose tackle position in Pittsburgh’s preferred 3-4 defense.

A 3-4 defensive scheme like the one the Steelers ran at the time requires all three defensive lineman to handle two gaps up front against the run so that the linebackers can be used in a way that allows them to play sideline-to-sideline and go get the ball carrier.  Most college defenses prefer to assign each player in the front to one gap, which is easier to execute.  It is possible that no nose tackle in modern football ever did it better than Casey Hampton.

In Pittsburgh’s scheme, Hampton recorded just 9 sacks in 12 seasons.  But that isn’t how defensive lineman are measured in that kind of defense, and as soon as Pittsburgh brought in Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator (LeBeau was fired by the Bengals as head coach after the 2002 season), Hampton became recognized as one of the best players in the NFL at any position.

LeBeau made Hampton a pro-bowler in 2003, and he achieved the honor a total of 5 times.  His best work came on some of the best Steeler defensive units, winning the Super Bowl with great defensive efforts in 2005 and in 2008.  5 different times in Hampton’s pro career, Pittsburgh had the top defense in football by yards allowed.

Such a career may fall just below the standards of the Hall of Fame, but it is a career that Texas fans could have seen coming.  From a decorated beginning, Hampton may just be remembered as the best ever of his type of player: a big guy who has great feet and powerful hands and just engulfs interior offensive lineman on one of the league’s best defenses for more than a decade.  No one else did that like Casey Hampton.

Hook’em Headlines is the Texas Longhorns blog for FanSided’s Sports Blog Network. We cover the latest Longhorn news and stories while providing some of the best analysis the web has to offer.
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