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The Optimist’s Take – Daniel McCullers And Playing Time

While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Can Daniel McCullers become a reliable rotational player logging consistent snaps in 2015?

During the entirety of his rookie season, including the playoffs, Steelers rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers played under 100 snaps. It goes without saying that that is not a significant body of work from which to judge.

That is especially the case when you consider that many of those snaps came in isolated bursts of four to seven snaps in a given game. In the 10 games in which he played, he saw 10 or more snaps only four times.

He logged his most snaps in the Steelers’ playoff loss with 17, however, and that also may just so happened to have been the best that he looked all season. Now, the Ravens do have a very good offensive line, but it is worth pointing out that Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah did not play as well in that game as he had in previous encounters.

McCullers was credited with just two tackles on the season, but that does not accurately reflect the impact that a nose tackle has on a game. There were a number of times in which he pushed the center back to open lanes for his linebackers or absorbed double teams.

The former sixth-round draft pick was known to be a project when he was drafted, and quite frankly he probably saw more playing time than was anticipated on draft day. He certainly showed well enough to suggest that he not only can play, but will continue to grow—mentally, not physically.

Last year, the Steelers were not quite fully ready to trust McCullers, so when Steve McLendon missed time, it was Cam Thomas replacing him in the lineup. That or the defense heavily relied on sub-packages.

I think there’s a good chance of that changing in 2015. With another year under his belt, it seems as likely as not that McCullers will be able to develop into a player that should be a game day active in every game, and who should see time spelling McLendon whenever the Steelers use a lot of their base package. He could also log time in sub-packages and run his snap total up to a couple hundred.

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