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Chris Hoke, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 2001-2012

July 9, 2012

Chris Hoke:

First, has retirement sunk in yet, and have you started planning for “what’s next”?

It hasn’t sunk in yet no. Nothing has started up yet in the offseason. I think it will hit me when the guys show up in camp and start taking the field and I’m not there.

I’ve been dabbling in the media right now – tv and radio… I’m keeping my options open. My whole life I’ve been rushing for deadlines – training camp, practices…I’m enjoying my kids and family and we’ll see what’s out there.

How’s your health? Do you foresee more surgeries for you – and would you tap into the NFL/NFLPA’s financial support for those medical needs?

No plans for more surgeries, no… I’m aching all the time. I lost fifty-five pounds and that should take the strain off of my joints, My neck is still sore, but it gets better. We’ just go from there.

The NFL and NFLPA offers post-career counseling – from help entering the broadcasting profession to other professional areas. Were you aware of these and have you tapped into that yet?

I haven’t – but I probably should – I’m probably dumb for not!  I have five kids so I don’t have much time. I should look into it, it’s just finding the time to do it.

You made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2001 – what do you think caught the coaching staff’s eye in regards to you and your play and how difficult was it having to fight your way onto the roster as an undrafted free agent?

The stress is part of the reason I may not miss it as much as I think. The stress was always there. I was always fighting for a job. No matter what I did, I had to prove myself, even when I was 17-1 as a starter. Draft picks have to prove they can’t play. Undrafted free agents, we always had to prove we could.

How did you deal with the stress?

I leaned on my faith and family. The fun moments outweigh the stress and pressure over your career. You gotta roll with it – it’s part of the business.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped you adjust to the NFL – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

The culture of the team got more accepting of young players over time. The older players at first didn’t want to work with you – guys I won’t name. But when guys like Kimo Von Oelhoffen, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton – as they came in they helped more.

In the last half of my career as I got  more established, I tried to help the young guys more and be a mentor. You always worry about them taking your job, but you just have to play well.

The Steelers coaches often speak to how difficult it is for young defensive linemen to learn the Steelers defense and play. Why is this the case, do you think. Is it too complicated at times?

That’s the Steeler way of doing things. They have a very technical way of playing – it’s very technique oriented. If you heard {Steelers defensive line coach} Mitchell in his press conference after drafting Ta’amu, he said he didn’t care what he’s done – he was going to teach him the Steeler way.

He takes young guys with or without a pedigree and starts from scratch. He teaches them technique – leverage, using your hands well and to hustle. In college you may rush upfield and that’s it. That’s not the way in Pittsburgh – there’s a specific way of doing things.

How have the new passing-focused rules affected the nose tackle position and the game in general?

Now, you see guys laying off of hits. You could see Clark in the playoff game versus Denver – he laid off Denver’s tight end and instead hurt him by hitting him in the knee instead. We were the “Big Nasty D” – that’s what we called ourselves. Now they are trying to take away those big hits. That’s how we played defense though – teams didn’t want to run the ball or catch passes over the middle in the fourth quarter against us.

How has it changed the nose tackle position?

We usually came off on third downs. Teams now though may run three or four times against us to see if they can do anything and then just start passing all the time. That’s what New England did – lots of quick outs to Welker. It was the run alternative. We had the number one defense over the last decade probably if you add up the numbers. But the pass-focus now takes the nose tackle off the field when teams go to their three and four wide receiver sets and sub-packages. Then they run the ball in those sets and have more success doing so against us.

Why is that – and how do you stop it?

Guys just have to know where they fit in on those packages and know where to support. It’s harder to know where to line up and add support in those sets.

Who were some of the biggest characters on the teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples of player/team hijinks?

Troy Polamalu was always doing pranks on the field. He’d roll up tape into a ball and stuff it into the trainer’s horn so when he blew it during practice no sound came out. Ward would throw grass into people’s mouths when they talked. Ward was a good locker room guy.

Jeff Reed – he had his moments, but he was a great locker room guy too. He kept things loose. Those three were the three main guys I remember that were characters on those teams …

How special was it for you to have played eleven seasons – all with the Steelers?

Very special. It’s not like some team that didn’t have the rich tradition like Pittsburgh had. I was part of Steelers Nation for eleven years. I still live here in Pittsburgh. I love being part of the Steeler family.

What are some of your best memories as a Steeler?

My first start versus New England. I remember coming out of the tunnel and the motion of feeling like I accomplished my dream of starting.

Super Bowl forty -that was my first Super Bowl. Just how awesome that was – it was a great feeling. All of the AFC Championship games  – I was very blessed.

Any last thoughts for readers?

The Steelers are a class organization. It’s who every player dreams of playing for.It was an honor playing for the Rooneys for eleven years.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 11:05 am

    Thank you, Mr. Hoke, for your years of great football with the Steelers.

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