Rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers made his first career start on Monday night against the Tennessee Titans, and fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers were naturally excited about it. He was an intriguing prospect from the beginning if only due to his sheer size, which certainly makes the performance worthy of review, even if it only lasted but 13 snaps.
It is believed that, while he may not have been strictly on a snap count, the coaching staff chose to limit the amount of work they would throw at the young man, who became the first rookie to start along the defensive line for the Steelers since Casey Hampton over a decade ago.
Cam Thomas played all but two nose tackle snaps in the base defense in the second half, which suggests that that was loosely the plan that the coaches had in mind, giving McCullers about a half. While he may not have guaranteed himself a future starting spot with his performance, he did represent himself generally well, particularly against the run, which is of course no surprise.
The rookie was rudely introduced to the world of the starting nose tackles on the second offensive play of the game for the Titans when he got picked off by a legal cut block on a running play to the left.
As he worked to his right battling with the center, the right guard came in and cut his legs out from underneath him, putting him on the ground and on his back. Whether or not this block should still be legal is a separate topic, but if he wants to learn how to maneuver around these plays, he needs to talk to Chris Hoke and his best pupil, Steve McLendon.
The Titans ran to the right two plays later, and this time they left center Brian Schwenke to fend for himself against the 350 pound nose tackle, which is easier to do on the move. While he got down the line well on this play, he still stumbled in the end right in front of the play, though in fairness, it looks like his foot may have gotten tangled in the traffic somewhere in there.
It was just another two plays later when Titans running back Bishop Sankey was able to put the ball into the end zone from nine yards out, but that was hardly McCullers’ fault, as he nearly made the tackle in the backfield on his own.
As a matter of fact, McCullers nearly bowled over Schwenke at the snap with excellent initial push. He sent the center stumbling backwards, taking him out of the play and giving both himself and the trailing Sean Spence a bead on Sankey, but McCullers was just a hair late and Spence failed to wrap up.
The rookie nose tackle line up off center, on the right guard’s inside shoulder, on this run to the right early in the second quarter. Schwenke tried to catch up with him on a reach block, he McCullers wound up just pushing him into Shonn Greene to help stop him for a gain of only one yard.