The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with 12 players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, and another three players who would be restricted free agents. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents in addition to tendering all three of their restricted free agents.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at running back, but suffered two free agency losses, one to another team and the other to retirement. The Steelers also released two players, while five of their unrestricted free agents remain unsigned.
The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that the organization has essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities. Perhaps there may be a modest addition or re-signing or two in the secondary between now and the draft, but now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.
Position: Nose Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 3
Offseason additions: 0
Offseason losses: 0
Steve McLendon: Steve McLendon is set to enter his third season as the starting nose tackle for the Steelers, and he has proven—to his coaches at least—to be a credible starter at his position. Yet he acknowledged after the 2013 season that he needed to add weight to avoid injuries. He did so that offseason, but a shoulder injury plagued him throughout last year.
McLendon simply needs to stay healthy in order to play better. I’m not ready to conclude that he is prone to injury under increased snaps inside the line, but I want to see him get through this year relatively healthy and not have to miss games first. He has plenty of assets as a more agile nose tackle that the Steelers would love to emphasize.
Daniel McCullers: Offseason reports for Daniel McCullers have been positive. He seems to be the kind of player whose natural assets will always be there, but it will be his work ethic and dedication that will determine how far he can go. The thing I’m most interested in is if the Steelers view him as a candidate to play some defensive end snaps.
Cam Thomas: Yes, Cam Thomas is still on the roster for now. The Steelers like to have three bodies that can play nose tackle, with at least one of them able to play end. Thomas is that third guy for now.
Notes: The Steelers have not added nor subtracted from this position, and at this point, I don’t suspect that they will, unless the upcoming draft happens to break in a very odd and unlikely way.
Pittsburgh has the nose tackle that they want in the starting lineup, provided that he actually stays healthy, even if he may not be the choice of many fans. Daniel McCullers seems likely to emerge as the obvious backup at the position, and potentially as a defensive tackle in four-man fronts.
As much as Cam Thomas is maligned, his flexibility in playing both defensive end and nose tackle makes him valuable, and he is more likely to play better in the limited role he’s marked for this season. He wouldn’t be the first defensive lineman free agent to play better in his second year for the Steelers than in his first.