End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Steve McLendon
Position: Nose Tackle
Experience: 6 Years
There remain many within Steeler Nation who are vocal in their criticism and concerns over Steve McLendon manning the nose tackle position for the defense. These criticisms largely paint a picture of a player too small to effectively play the position.
I would argue that he has shown he has size enough to effectively play nose tackle on the field for the Steelers, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have very real concerns about his future on the defense.
This concern rests not in his performance, but rather his endurance. Since becoming the starting nose tackle at the beginning of the 2013 season, McLendon has already dealt with a number of injuries that have seen him miss a total of six games and parts of others, while reducing his overall effectiveness as he played with said injuries.
After the 2013 season, McLendon believed that he overtrained himself in preparation for taking on a larger role in the defense, suggesting that he made himself more susceptible to the injuries that he suffered. He bulked up for 2014, but a chronic shoulder injury was one of the main themes of his second year as a starter.
For the regular season, McLendon was limited to only around 300 snaps, in part due to the time that he missed due to injury, but also because the Steelers relied heavily on using their nickel defense, in which he rarely played.
When the Steelers’ run defense was most effective, however, it was in the base defense, with McLendon on the field. On a per snap basis, he was perhaps the Steelers’ best run defender as a penetrating nose tackle who can make his own plays.
McLendon also found a bit more success this year as a pass rusher than he did a year ago, notching his first sack as a starter, but this is still an area that could use improvement, considering his superior agility and athleticism for the position.
But what of the future? McLendon is already 29, and despite comparatively minimal tread on the tires, he has already dealt with some chronic injuries. Could this recent shoulder injury linger beyond the 2014 season, even if it doesn’t prevent him from playing? He may have no trouble playing nose tackle (some would beg to differ, of course), but staying on the field could be another matter.