Over the course of the past few days, I felt that I was due to write something about Daniel McCullers, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sixth-round compensatory draft selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
McCullers is a man large enough to garner the nickname “Shade Tree”, and was aptly described as “an obstruction” and “a size prospect” by general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, respectively, after the draft.
Yet after defensive line coach John Mitchell was done speaking about his new toy when the selection was first made, the impression was given that a limitation would not be place on what he could offer the team as a 6’7”, 350-pound nose tackle.
Mitchell spoke about McCullers potentially playing defensive end for the Steelers if he trimmed down some, and admittedly he already held his weight far better than most men his size due to his height. This is the topic that I was interested in addressing.
Coincidentally, Bob Labriola touched on McCullers yesterday while addressing a question about the Steelers’ nose tackle position that could be relevant to the discussion. Here is the part of his answer in which he discusses the second-year defensive lineman:
“I think you and all Steelers fans are going to be impressed when they get their first look at the 2015 version of Daniel McCullers. Let’s just say he hasn’t been spending a lot of time so far this offseason sprawled on a couch eating cookies”.
While not making a direct reference to a slimmed down figure—and admittedly you wouldn’t want to have him slim down too much as an interior lineman—Labriola is certainly giving the impression that McCullers has taken to life as a professional football player and is making workouts and conditioning a priority.
His playing time last season was delayed, and then sporadic, in part due to his limitations as a bulky interior defensive lineman. Cam Thomas was favored over him because he also offered the Steelers positional flexibility.
It appears as though McCullers is hoping to be that critical fourth defensive lineman who could give respectable snaps at all three positions (or four, in goal line packages) that Chris Hoke and, more recently, Al Woods filled.
While he certainly exhibited his limitations on the field last season—I cite in particular the need for improvement in his footwork, which Steve McLendon can teach him—the potential that he put on display was also undeniable.
It’s no surprise that the defining characteristic of his play was his pure strength. There were a number of occasions in which he easily drove the center three or four steps into the backfield off the snap, though the end result of this was mixed, as it occasionally opened up gaps that the linebackers couldn’t fill.
We could potentially see a significant jump from McCullers from year one to year two, which will be especially true if he has improved his conditioning. With more quickness, both on and after the snap, he could potentially see some time as a defensive end, which he clearly has the size for, and will definitely keep him getting a hat on game day and increase his playing time considerably.