PITTSBURGH (AP) - Playing nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers is pretty simple according to veteran Casey Hampton. Push the guy in front of you left. Push him right. Push him backward.
Pittsburgh selected the massive defensive tackle in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday, hoping the 6-foot-3, 348-pound Ta'amu can develop into a player who will eventually replace Hampton.
"You want to make sure this guy can play the double team," defensive line coach John Mitchell said. "If he can't do that, he'll have a tough time playing for us and he did that very well at the University of Washington."
Ta'amu gives Pittsburgh needed depth at the position that anchors its 3-4 defense. Longtime backup Chris Hoke retired in January and Hampton is recovering from offseason knee surgery, leaving third-year man Steve McLendon as the most experienced healthy nose tackle on the roster.
Mitchell declined to speculate on Hampton's status and said it's too early to "discard" McLendon.
Maybe, but McLendon is a scant 280 pounds. Ta'Amu weighed as much as 390 pounds at Washington though Mitchell is not concerned about Ta'amu's size being a problem once he gets to minicamp.
"Everybody wants big guys," Mitchell said. "We do a lot of with our nose tackle. When this kid comes in here, we're going to see where he is and (conditioning coordinator) Garrett (Giemont) is going to determine where (Ta'Amu) needs to play at."
"When you go against DeCastro, you can feel his presence," Ta'amu said. "There's not a lot of guards that can block down on a nose tackle and you can feel him. The thing about DeCastro is he's explosive, from play one all the way to the last play. There's not a lot of guards that can stay the same like that."
The Steelers are in no hurry to bring Ta'amu along, though he believes he can be a three-down player. When asked about his pass rush skills, Ta'amu just laughed.
"My pass rush is amazing," he said.