The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Steve McLendon
Position: Nose Tackle
Experience: 6 Years
Originally signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent defensive end out of Troy in 2009, Steve McLendon spent his first year in the league on the team’s practice squad before finally seeing intermittent time on the 53-man roster in 2010, in one game managing to recover a fumble.
McLendon spent the next several seasons increasing his role, starting in 2011 when he became a regular in the defensive line rotation, and even started one game at nose tackle when both Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke were out with injuries.
In 2012, Hampton’s final season, McLendon had brief but impactful appearances in games, including two sacks and a forced fumble in limited appearances, and his play impressed the front office enough to sign him to a three-year contract to succeed Hampton as the starting nose tackle in a new-look defensive line.
Increasingly since then, of course, the nose tackle position has become less and less valuable, with that being never more true in Pittsburgh than the 2015 season, during which the Steelers logged about two thirds of their snaps without one.
In spite of the fact that he was fully healthy for the first time in years, playing 16 games, he only technically ‘started’ nine games due to the frequency with which the Steelers even opened games in their nickel defense, which had taken over as their base package.
Still, McLendon found his spots, recording 14 tackles, mostly solo, on the season, in addition to notching one sack, and even a pass defensed. But as is often the case with nose tackles, his impact is not best exemplified in the individual statistics, but rather the team statistics.
In spite of the frequent criticisms from the average fan, the Steelers run defense is at its best when McLendon is on the field, as the statistics demonstrate, with their yards per carry number dipping significantly when he is on the field compared to when he is on the sideline—even in comparison to when somebody else is in at nose tackle.
Because the nose tackle has seen so little work this past season, McLendon was more involved as a defensive tackle in the nickel, and even got some time at defensive end, including a ‘start’ when Stephon Tuitt was out with an injury. The 30-year old is set to hit free agency, and the Steelers have to consider his worth to their new defense that has turned the nose tackle into a sub-package position.