The Pittsburgh Steelers used their first of two sixth-round draft picks earlier today to select L.T. Walton, a 6’4”, 320 lbs. interior defender who projects as a five-tech defensive end for the Steelers’ defensive scheme.
Pittsburgh certainly wanted to add another young body to the defensive line rotation this year, and seemed to find a player with good upside late in the draft, as they often do, but my favorite part of this pick is that it gave defensive line coach John Mitchell the chance to sit in front of the microphone and talk about his group.
Not unexpectedly, the focus of the conversation quickly turned away from Walton, Mitchell’s newest toy, and to the state of the rest of the defensive line, in particular the players that are newer to the system, with four of the linemen either being rookies or free agent signings a year ago.
It is very interesting to note that Mitchell went out of his way to endorse Clifton Geathers, whom the Steelers signed with four weeks remaining in the season after Brett Keisel was placed on injured reserve.
“I asked for Clifton Geathers to come back”, is what he said, specifically, of the 6’8”, 325 lbs. defensive end. While that was about the extent of his commentary on the veteran reserve, it may be worth noting that he failed to mention Cam Thomas during his press conference at all, who started for most of the season at left defensive end after signing a two-year, $4 million contract.
The highlight of the discussion, however, was certainly about second-year defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, a crowd favorite as a 6’7”, 350 lbs. former sixth-round draft pick who bears the nickname “Shade Tree”.
I should say the formerly 350 lbs. McCullers, as Mitchell confirmed previous media reports that the big man has slimmed down during the offseason. When he was asked about the weight loss in a question framed with the clause “by your direction”, however, the defensive line coach did not take credit, citing strength and conditioning coach Garrett Giemont as the source of the transformation.
More importantly, Mitchell said of his second-year player, “I like where Dan McCullers is right now”. “He’s dropped some weight”, he added, saying that “he’s a guy that when we go to the Big Nickel, he’ll be one of the guys we’ll have in there”.
While the veteran position coach spoke highly of his potential last year after McCullers was the sixth-round defensive line pick, Mitchell spoke mainly of his size and raw ability. He noted during his press conference for Walton just how far along the young man has come.
“He was a guy right there in Tennessee that didn’t know what it would take to play on this level. He’s been around good football players, he watched how Cam Heyward worked, it got contagious”, he said. “He’s in great shape right now, he understands what we’re going to do, he’s here, so I’m excited about this football team. I’m excited about the defensive line”.
It does seem like there is reason for excitement about the defensive line these days with the development of the young players. He said that he was spoiled by having a defensive line during the 2000s that was not only so productive, but had such longevity. “I’m looking for that”, he said, before adding “and I think we’re going to have it here again.