Due to injuries on the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line, rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers is expected to make his regular season debut Monday night against the Houston Texans and the oversized Tennessee product can’t wait to show what he can do.
“I’m excited. Anything can happen in a week. I just got to keep working and hopefully next week I’ll end up starting,” said McCullers earlier this week. “I’m just going to go with it, go with each step, which is practice next. I think it’s a good chance. I have a great opportunity with Steve (McLendon) being down. I’m going to take advantage of it. Have a good week of practice, that’s the biggest thing. Just work hard, that’s all I can do.”
Due to him being almost 6’7″, there’s concerns that McCullers, one of two six-round selections made by the Steelers back in May, won’t be able to get enough leverage at the nose tackle position, which is usually manned by 300-plus pound players that are much shorter than he is. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, however, said Thursday during his weekly talk with the media that he believes the rookie has enough strength to offset the need for him to always be the lowest guy down in the trenches.
“He’s still very difficult to move even if sometimes they do get under him. But he’s got strength and I think you’ll see that,” said LeBeau, who also credited strength coach Garret Giemont for helping get McCullers stronger since he was drafted.
When asked Thursday if he was comfortable giving McCullers a lot of snaps Monday night, LeBeau was straight and to the point with his answer.
“I would be, yes,” he said.
The Texans will more than likely want to run a lot of the outside zone Monday night and the Steelers defense has yet to show they can stop that particular blocking scheme through their first six games.
As LeBeau said Thursday, one of the primary things that needs to be done when properly defending the outside zone is for the defensive linemen to get into the gaps while also staying on their feet in attempt to prevent any running lanes from opening. That won’t be easy for McCullers as he has a large surface area below the belt for opposing offensive lineman to target with a chop block. If he goes down, you can bet whichever defensive end that’s trailing him down the line will also likely go down as well.
“If there’s no gap, there’s no play,” LeBeau said Thursday. “They just keep bouncing to the sideline. But you got to have good leverage at the point of attack and you got to have people in their gaps coming down the line, and you can’t have people on the ground. It’s not that difficult.”
With all due respect to LeBeau, it’s certainly been difficult for Steelers defensive lineman Cam Thomas to stay square and keep his feet while defending the outside zone this season. We’ll see first hand in primetime Monday night just how difficult it is for McCullers and whether or not he has the strength needed to overcome the lack of leverage that he has due his size.