Right on the Nose

The Steelers will bring Casey Hampton back for at least one more season, but they may need to begin developing a potential replacement. The best of the candidates showed up at the NFL Combine on Saturday.

INDIANAPOLIS – On the first day of the NFL Combine, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert reaffirmed that his coach, Mike Tomlin, will stick with the 3-4 defense, meaning nose tackle remains an important piece.

But Casey Hampton, who'll turn 35 before the 2012 opener, was 12th on the defense last season in snaps per games played. So Colbert was asked if it's still wise to draft a nose tackle in the first round.

"You can't get to third down if you don't stop them on first and second, so that's important," Colbert said. "Traditionally, anybody you take in the first round you like to be three-down players. But a nose tackle, chances are you're not going to get him if you don't take him high, if they're worth anything."

Colbert said this year's pool of nose tackles is "a good group. It's not as deep as a couple of the other positions, but there are enough. We'll have opportunities to look at some in higher rounds."

Here's the rundown of the best of those nose tackles, or at least those who showed up Saturday at the Combine:

* Dontari Poe is a 6-4, 346-pound junior out of Memphis. He won't turn 22 until August. He's young and experts say he's raw, and they wonder whether at his height he can be a true nose tackle.

"Well, most people see me as a 3-4 nose tackle, which is cool with me," said Poe, who also played the 3 and 5 techniques at Memphis.

Poe also thought it was "cool" that he's been compared at times to Casey Hampton.

"I'm pretty into football. I've followed him for a long time," Poe said. "Once he gets his hands on you he kind of controls you. That's probably what I admire most about him."

Poe's weight-room work ethic is well known. And one of his goals at the combine is to bench 225 pounds 40 times.

"I love the weight room," he said. "I'm self-intrinsically motivated to do it."

It shows. While Poe weighs 346 pounds, he doesn't appear fat and will be an interesting player to watch during Sunday's drills.

* Alameda Ta'amu, at 6-2½, 348, is a more natural nose tackle than Poe, but Ta'amu's not as athletic. He also turns 22 in August but was a three-year starter (four-year letterman) at Washington and has better pedigree than Poe.

* Josh Chapman, 6-0, 316, was the Alabama nose tackle. He could go as high as the second round, but a torn ACL, which he played with throughout the second half of last season, will prohibit him from working out and could cost him in the draft. Chapman told reporters he'll be running in a couple of weeks and expects to report to training camp on time.

* Mike Martin, 6-1½, 306, was more of a 4-3 nose tackle than a true 0-technique at Michigan, but his work ethic and motor are similar to that of Chris Hoke, a 305-pounder who lasted 10 years in the league.

Martin explained why he thinks he can play nose in a 3-4 at his size.

"Because of my leverage," said the two-time Michigan state high school heavyweight wrestling champ.

"I love being called ‘small.' I love it. I have a chip on my shoulder. I've been called ‘undersized' my whole life when it comes to playing the position. My leverage and everything that goes into playing nose, I'm just really good at it."

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