Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon is hopeful of playing more like a true nose tackle this season after playing last year underweight, and consequently leaving himself prone to injury while failing to draw enough attention to himself to free up the linebackers.
Reviews thus far have been mixed. Overall, he has played well within himself, but opposing offenses still don’t feel it necessary to double team him often enough, even when he’s driving the center back into the pocket and in the quarterback’s face.
That is not something that we saw early in the Steelers’ final preseason game last week against the Carolina Panthers, however.
On the third play of the opening drive, McLendon was lined up at the zero tech right over the center, who was pushed back four yards into the pocket before the right guard decided that it might be a good idea to give help.
McLendon’s forward momentum slowed to a crawl, however, and Kelvin Benjamin was able to get out in front of Ike Taylor. Derek Anderson found his big receiver for the 19-yard reception and a first down despite the pressure up the middle.
On the Panthers’ fourth and one conversion, McLendon bore down on the center at the line of scrimmage, but he was able to work the nose tackle to his right as the fullback came in to double team him.
He still held his lane while clearing the way for the inside linebackers to come in and make the tackle, even if the officials ruled that the running back’s forward momentum was enough for a first down.
A couple plays later, the Steelers showed their first and only look in the big nickel formation with their starting unit. In this set up, McLendon was playing the right defensive tackle position next to Cam Thomas to his left.
McLendon was double-teamed on the left side of the offensive line before he went one-on-one with the left guard, gaining penetration to force the runner around him, but he was twisted down using his own momentum.
On the Panthers’ second drive, they quickly found themselves in a third down and one situation. With the center downblocking to his right, McLendon beat the left guard to gain some penetration into the backfield, clogging up the middle of the line. The running back was flushed to the perimeter, where he was brought down for a loss.