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Preseason Expectations: Nose Tackle

Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp.

We’ll wrap up the defensive line with the nose tackles.

Steve McLendon: While I really like McLendon and am miffed by the repeated criticism he faces, there are some areas to examine. Though this will matter more over the course of a 16 game season, I do want him to make it through camp healthy. He suffered a concussion last year that caused him to miss several practices. Keith Butler’s defense should only allow him to get even more penetration and I want to see him blow up a couple of plays in the backfield to affirm that. It’d be nice to see a better pass rush on the few opportunities he gets. That’s one thing I don’t think we see a lot out of McLendon and wish we did.

Daniel McCullers: Snap count. A full year into the league means McCullers should be in the best shape of his life. It’s not that he was woefully out of shape last year, but anyone who spends a year in an NFL is going to be better off for it. He’s going to get plenty of playing time in the preseason and I want to see how he handles it. Can he go 10-12 plays or do you see a player gassed with his hands on his hips? Would love to see him get stuck out there in the preseason against a hurry up offense. Just to really test him.

In subpackage work, which I hope and expect he’d get, I want to see him continue to be able to collapse the pocket with his combination of length and strength. Will only encourage the team to use him in that role in the regular season, offering more opportunities to give Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt breathers.

Mike Thornton: He’s not going to make the team and seems like a longshot for the practice squad. For guys like that, it’s about putting together the best tape possible in the limited chances you’ll get, giving yourself something to show other teams.

He profiles as an undersized nose tackle so hopefully we see some quickness and burst in his game. This was a highly recruited player out of high school so who knows, maybe he surprises.

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