With the 2015 NFL Draft and rookie minicamp now in the rearview mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers 90-man offseason roster is getting pretty close to set, although there are always some late movements to balance out positional numbers or replace injured or underperforming players.
Now that the rookie class in in-house and the tryout players have either come and gone or stuck around, it’s time to take one last look at the Steelers’ roster as we head into the meat of the offseason. We now turn to the defensive side of the ball, where there is a ton of depth everywhere. We continue with the nose tackle and interior defensive line.
Steve McLendon: McLendon is entering his third year as the Steelers’ starting nose tackle during his age 29 season. During his two years as the starter, he has had issues with chronic injuries that have lingered throughout the year and affected his availability, as he has missed six full games in that span and parts of others.
On the field, however, he has been a positive contributor, and often one of the team’s better defensive players on the field at any given time, during his time as the starter. He has bulked up since taking over the job and become more stout at the point of contact, but his greatest strength remains his athleticism and awareness. His footwork while navigating traffic has helped him keep his feet and make plays that you wouldn’t normally expect.
Daniel McCullers: It seems likely to me that expectations will always be unrealistically high for McCullers unless or until he enters the starting lineup. That is not a knock against him by any means; I have written positively about him since he was drafted, and he very well could grow to become a starting nose tackle.
I don’t expect that he will be actively competing to unseat McLendon this year, however. After all, there’s still a lot that McLendon can teach him about playing the position. But he will absolutely be getting more playing time this year, as it was even alluded that he will get work in the team’s big nickel package. I expect that we’ll see significant growth from him just by virtue of him now knowing what he’s supposed to be doing and harnessing his power.
Mike Thornton: Signed as a tryout player during rookie minicamp, Thornton figures to be just a body, and a bit of a small one at that. He is listed on the team’s website at 6’1” and under 300 pounds.
Notes: last season, when McLendon was first injured, he was replaced in the starting lineup not by the rookie McCullers, but by Cam Thomas, who was at the time starting at left defensive end. Should he make the roster, he will likely be the third option as the interior defender. The Steelers do not like to go into a season with only two players along the line that they feel comfortable playing inside.