Hampton shaping Steelers defense

Updated: July 31, 2003, 8:26 PM ET

LATROBE, Pa. -- Defensive tackle Casey Hampton came to camp overweight and out of shape, earning and the ire of coach Bill Cowher after failing the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-day running drills.

But Hampton has proved nearly unblockable, and is poised to become a larger part of the Steelers' defense -- aside from his girth.

During camp, Hampton has disrupted individual drills, team drills and has batted down passes. On Wednesday night, he had a large role in stuffing the Steelers' first-team offense during a goal-line drill.

Line coach John Mitchell and defensive coordinator Tim Lewis say they like what Hampton has done so far.

"We aren't going to be running 40s on the field. I want to see what he can do when we put those pads on, and what I've seen this year is that he knows how to stay low, he's getting better using his hands and he has the quickness," said Mitchell said. "This guy, every day, gets a little bit better and a little bit better."

Hampton -- listed at 6-1, 310 pounds -- said his problems during the first day of camp were caused by his sway back -- which curves inward toward his stomach.

"My back locked up. It was hurting real bad. That happened so we move on," Hampton said. "It's just how it's always been. Sometimes it locks up on me, but it's no big deal. Even when my stomach was small it was curved."

Hampton also dismissed the running test.

"My whole thing is I know what I can do and I know a run test won't make or break me," Hampton said. "They pay me to play football. Other guys in the past haven't made it and they had great careers, so it ain't no big deal.

"Last year I didn't make my times either and I had a pretty good season, so I'm not really worried about it," he said.

Last season, Hampton had solid performances in 15 regular-season games, racking up 41 tackles. In his last two regular-season games, he had two sacks and two forced fumbles.

In the playoffs, Hampton had three solo tackles against Cleveland, and against Tennessee forced a fumble that led to a Steelers touchdown.

Hampton, entering his third season with the Steelers, credited his late-season surge to a stronger grasp of how opposing lineman were trying to block him.

"That's the whole thing," he said. "As I began to understand the blocking schemes, I didn't have to worry about being better and stronger than guys. When you know what they're doing, it makes things a lot easier."

Ask Keydrick Vincent, one of Hampton's friends on the team who has been facing off against him as right guard.

"He's a load," Vincent said. "He called me just about every day this offseason and he really was working on his feet and quickness and it's showing out there on the field when he goes against me."

"He's going to be a beast this year. And that run test? It didn't mean a thing," Vincent said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index