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The Pessimist’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 pessimistic side of the coin.

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

One look at Daniel McCullers will make it obvious what his defining attribute is: his tremendous size. At 6’7”, and splitting the difference between 300 and 400 pounds, it’s no wonder why he’s been given the nickname “Shade Tree”.

That size, however, is more of a liability for him than an advantage given where he plays, which is at nose tackle. The nose tackle traditionally aligns himself across for guards and centers along the offensive line, who are more likely to be half a foot shorter than him.

This provides all sorts of problems when it comes to playing with leverage. The low man tends to win, as long as the relative strength is comparable. Now, McCullers can often get by on his sheer strength, but we’ve seen both on his college and his pro tape that he can lose battles he quite simply shouldn’t because he’s not playing with the appropriate pad level.

Beyond that, McCullers remains raw in other areas of his game. While he has improved his ability to get off the ball on the snap, it’s still an issue that crops up every so often, watching him play. He also has a lot to learn about keeping his feet while moving down the line, as he gets taken down pretty easily by cut blocks.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle in him earning more playing time from a performance standpoint, however, is his need to improve his recognition and spatial awareness. There were times where he was able to drive the center back, but then did nothing. On occasion, he simply opened up a lane for the running back to slip through.

It’s true that McCullers played a decent number of snaps for a player deemed as a project early on. But the truth is that he is still a project, and, barring the health of starting nose tackle Steve McLendon, I don’t necessarily see the second-year player’s snap count increasing dramatically, though I certainly don’t discount the possibility. I just don’t think it’s a given.

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