On Daniel McCullers: Play High, Play Low

New Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers is a very big man. So big that he has quite a hard time getting small, which is a problem for a nose tackle.

How big a problem is it? When Jim Wexell asked him yesterday how often he’s heard from coaches that he needs to play lower, he answered that he’s been told that “probably every day since I’ve been in football”.

At 6’7”, for a position generally populated by players not much taller than six feet in height, it can naturally be more challenging to play lower on a consistent basis, and when you don’t get low, you lose the leverage battles. Even when you’re of gargantuan proportion, as is the case with the 350-360-pound McCullers.

We’ve already been over the fact that his game tape makes it very evident that he plays too high. When you combine that with his chronic inability to get off the ball, it can result in him looking up at the sky from his back far more often than a man his size should.

Even McCullers understands that he needs to learn to play lower on a more consistent basis, which was the topic of discussion during his post-draft conference call:

“At times it was, playing high that was one of my weaknesses but whenever I do get lower I can be a great player and I can’t be too loose or it stops. I am going to continue to work to where I can play each and every play and dominate the opponent in front of me”.

If he’s going to learn to dominate on every play, then defensive line coach John Mitchell is going to have a big hand in that, because he’s the one that is going to be tasked with trying to train McCullers into getting low on a consistent basis.

But he also needs to play high, occasionally, because his height for the position does offer one advantage over the traditional nose tackle: the ability to bat balls.

Let me make this clear: McCullers isn’t simply extraordinarily tall for a nose tackle. He also has extraordinarily long arms at better than 36 and a half inches, and 11-inch hands. His wingspan is remarkable, and it would be beneficial if he can learn to take advantage of it.

Even though general manager Kevin Colbert said during the draft that he didn’t think there was necessarily a ‘too tall’ for the nose tackle position, it’s clear that McCullers has had his issues in playing the leverage game, in which his height hasn’t helped.

But he’s also fairly athletic for his size, and is also continuously trimming down, weight-wise, because, as Mitchell said, the team could also be looking to move him outside to defensive end at times, where his height will be less of a disadvantage.

So while the Steelers will work over the course of this offseason to get their new nose tackle to play low, they must also not let him forget the times that he needs to play with height.

Imagine McCullers bull rushing a center into the pocket and then using his massive arms to bat down a hurried throw. Perhaps that’s the type of image that Colbert saw in his head when he called his new defensive lineman “intriguing”.

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