Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell has long been one of the top assistants in the NFL.
And sometimes he succeeds in helping develop five-time Pro Bowlers, such as Casey Hampton, by keeping it simple.
“Mitch told me, ‘Man, whupping a man’s ass makes up for a whole lot,’ ” the veteran nose tackle said, “and that’s what it’s all about.”
That anecdote came up as Hampton explained why he is not the most avid among Steelers players when it comes to studying film.
Hampton is one of the more entertaining interviews in the Steelers’ locker room, and not just because he punctuates one of the many funny lines he delivers with a full-belly laugh.
Take, for instance, Hampton’s reasoning for why Dick LeBeau, mad scientist that he is, should have Hampton drop into coverage more frequently.
“I’m a former linebacker, you know, back in the day. I had the sweetest drop, sweetest feet and drop, if you’ll check the tape,” he said. “I don’t know why you don’t see it too much, because I’m not getting any sacks, so I might as well drop back and try to cover somebody.”
Hampton gave one of his patented laughs, which in turn makes everyone around him laugh.
He turned serious when it came to an aspect of defense that has nothing to do with Hampton helping out in pass coverage. This one dealt with stopping the run, a Hampton and Steelers specialty for years.
The Steelers’ run defense seems to have righted itself since some early struggles contributed to the team’s 2-2 start. The Steelers rank sixth in the NFL in rushing defense, and are giving up an average of 97.0 yards per game.
“We’re doing a better job but it’s definitely not where we’re accustomed to being at,” Hampton said. “(Allowing) big runs, that’s not us and we’ve been doing that a little bit too much.”
The Hampton prescription for playing better run defense: whipping someone’s you-know-what much more than he whips your you-know-what and holding running backs to gains of no more than two or three yards.
Doing that Monday night in San Francisco may be paramount for the Steelers.
Containing 49ers running back Frank Gore and forcing San Francisco to become one-dimensional might be the best way for the Steelers stay in the game, especially if they need it to be a low-scoring one because of an offense that has been depleted by injuries.
The defense has allowed one touchdown since the middle of November, and Hampton, for one, isn’t satisfied with where it is.
That is probably a good sign for the Steelers.
“We still ain’t playing how we are capable of playing,” Hampton said, “especially against the run.”
— Scott Brown