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: Daniel McCullers
Position: Nose Tackle
Experience: 2 Years
The expectations for nose tackle Daniel McCullers entering his second season were radically different in comparison to those that he faced entering his first season—understandably so, as second-year players are routinely anticipated to make a significant jump after their rookie years as they better acclimate to the speed and sophistication of the professional level.
That is not the entire explanation for McCullers, however, who was brought into the league as a sixth-round draft pick that the front office freely acknowledged was a “size prospect”. The impetus for drafting him was the fact that he at 6’7” and 350 pounds, because the reality is that his college tape was not very impressive.
However, while he didn’t exactly blow things up in training camp and the preseason, he did show enough to make the coaching staff believe he was somebody the team could work with, showing enough competence in the system, and enough improvement in pad level and get-off speed, that they were willing to carry him on the 53-man roster.
He managed to play a handful of snaps as a rookie, but the bar was set for higher expectations entering his second season. He drew rave reviews about his physical fitness early in the offseason, which was relevant especially given McCullers’ long history of struggling to maintain his weight.
The jump in play, let alone playing time, never came, of course. It didn’t help that the Steelers chose to opt to play primarily in their nickel defense, which takes the nose tackle off the field, but even considering that, McCullers’ opportunities on the field seemed to be pretty limited when he was healthy.
But his health wasn’t always assured either, because he suffered an ankle injury early in the season, in the second game of the year, which caused him to sit out the next four games, or a full quarter of the season. He was slowly weaned back into play, but he never really saw significant snaps, playing just 105 snaps during the season.
That accounted for less than 10 percent of the team’s total snaps, although one has to consider that he missed a quarter of the season. But the greater concern is that his play on the field did not see significant improvement. Particularly in his snaps in the nickel, he gained disappointingly minimal push on the pocket given his size. 2016 will be an important season for him to determine if he is a viable rotational player.