Going back to last year, with the Pittsburgh Steelers mired in what seemed to be a lost season, the upcoming draft was a topic of conversation in November and December far more frequently than is the norm in western Pennsylvania.
Back then, the go-to “the Steelers need to draft…” tended to be nose tackle Louis Nix, who ended up staying on the board all the way into the third round. Instead, they came away with the 6’7” Daniel McCullers in the late in the draft.
Despite some draft projections suggesting that he had the talent and potential to be drafted in the third or fourth round, he fell all the way to the sixth, where Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and the Steelers front office drafted him as a “size prospect”. There really is no other way to describe a 6’7”, 350-plus-pound man.
The team’s fan base seemed less enthusiastic about the big man than did the head coach and general manager when discussing the pick in the post-draft press conference. At the very least, opinions were quite divided, and remain so.
It’s easy to hold a certain view and let the conversation remain stagnant, of course, when there’s nothing new to report that can alter perception. Since the draft, all we’ve had to go on was reviewing McCullers’ college tape and picking apart his flaws, such as his high pad level and slow step off the snap.
At least with the start of training camp last week, we’ve finally begun to start seeing the fruits of this offseason labor.
Right from the first practice, for example, we’ve heard that McCullers was running as the second-team nose tackle behind Steve McLendon, ahead of the likes of Hebron Fangupo, who was on the roster last year, and Al Lapuaho.
That has continued to be the case through the very early portions of training camp, with some positive signs. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly Tweeted yesterday that McCullers had his best practice of camp so far on Wednesday, and later wrote the following:
Daniel McCullers is a monster of a man, and he showed that he can play some football as well. McCullers was active all day on Wednesday whether it was pushing Cody Wallace into the backfield during linemen pass blocking drills or swallowing Dri Archer during the 11-on-11 live tackling period. Now, McCullers looks like he needs to get a little more sense of urgency with his play, but that will come. He is a quiet kid who is just trying to fit in during the early days of camp.
Fellow Review writer Ken Laird also got quite the colorful sound bite about the rookie nose tackle from cornerback William Gay:
We call him ‘Big Dan’. He reminds me of the movie ‘The Longest Yard’, the big dude that was in there and he started crying and then destroyed everybody. Me and Troy were just talking, every time we’re going to just walk up and give him a hug. Nice guy. Won’t say too much to you. I told him, ‘Once you get six years in, people are going to be scared to talk to you.’ You’re going to say ‘Get out my face’. I told him, ‘You’re bigger than everybody. Just move people’.
The Steelers don’t need him to scare people just yet, but if he can contribute in a rotation at nose tackle with McLendon as a rookie, I think both the coaching staff and front office will be quite pleased with the young man’s progress.