'Big Chris' the latest phenom

'Big Chris' the latest phenom

LATROBE – Casey Hampton weighed into training camp at a svelte 320 pounds, but he may be too light for today's game because today he is going up against guard Chris Kemoeatu.

Since he's a rookie, and needs to stay in shape to make the team, Kemoeatu hasn't eaten too many defensive backs this camp. So he's down a bit, too, at 340 pounds.

Ready, set, let the earth rumble.

Oof!

Once again, Kemoeatu has stood up the man with the lowest center of gravity in football. Onlookers are shocked.

"I've never seen a guy stand Casey up like that," said defensive lineman Chris Hoke. "He's a strong kid. Real strong."

All Hampton can do is shake his head.

"He's a load in there," said Hampton. "You've got to work the edge on him because if you go down the middle, it's over. He anchors down real, real good."

Casey Hampton, finesse pass rusher. The world is turning.

Here's what others are saying about the Steelers' latest phenom:

Jeff Hartings -- "He's just a mauler right now. Very strong, good hands, really strong. He didn't pick up the offense real quick, but the thing I like about him – and I think they like about him – is he just plays football. He hits. He likes to hit guys. That's the best thing about him; he likes to play football and is physical."

Can he develop into a star player?

"Definitely. He reminds me a lot of Marco Rivera, who I came into the league with. The first year he didn't dress in any games and now he's a two or three-time Pro Bowler. He slowly learned how to play the game. The most important thing for any player is you have that football/physical mentality and all the techniques can come later, and he's a physical guy."

Alan Faneca -- "He's starting to pick things up and he's starting to feel a little more confident about the plays and decisions. He reminds me a lot of Keydrick (Vincent) when he first got here. Big guy, had a little trouble picking things up, but once he started getting things he really started coming on."

• Hoke -- "You've got to get him moving because if you try to go right at him you're not going to get through him because he's so big. He wants you to go right at him. I don't know if he lacks technique right now as much as he lacks experience. It always takes time. I think he has the potential to be a great player. He just needs to keep learning the techniques that are taught to him."

• Kimo von Oelhoffen -- "One of the strongest rookies I've been against. He's an excellent pass blocker. Actually he's a good player. You've got to bring your lunch."

Can he become great?

"Yeah. He has the strength, great feet, good speed. He probably could work on that a little bit. He's coachable. Very coachable. That's the one thing I look at. Talent is an indicator, but being coachable, that's the difference."

Kemoeatu, pronounced Kay-Moy-AH-too, is the Steelers' sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Utah. He's perhaps better known for kicking players in consecutive games and being forced to attend anger management classes, but the 6-3, 340-pound giant hardly seems the angry young man as he strolls out of practice carrying the pads of veterans Faneca and Chukky Okobi.

"I'm glad and happy and thankful that I'm out here," he said softly. "These are guys you can experience a lot of good and new things with."

He's a long way from his Hawaiian home, and seems lonely. Does he like Pittsburgh?

"I love it," he said. "The weather's nice; real green, just like Hawaii; great staff and the vets have been cool, except for carrying their gear."

Is he picking up the offense?

"I pick up the plays pretty good," he said. "We ran the same type of offense in Utah. Today I think we put in like eight counter plays where we were pulling. Every day we put in like five or six plays, so I'm always thinking. The physical part I think I'm pretty good with, but it's the mental part, staying in the playbook."

At Kahuku High School, Kemoeatu was the team captain and led the Red Raiders to the 2000 state championship. He was named the Hawaii's Defensive Player of the Year and followed his older brother Ma'ake to Utah, and then to the NFL. Ma'ake Kemoeatu plays defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.

What should we call him?

"They call us Kemo, but we already have a Kimo," Kemoeatu said. "So everybody just calls me Chris."

He's a guy in need of a nickname. Anyone? Anything?

"I've been working on it and ‘Big Chris' is all I've come up with," said Faneca.

"Give me a day or two," said von Oelhoffen. "I'm going to talk to his roommate, Shaun Nua. We'll figure one out."

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