Pittsburgh Steelers third-year defensive tackle Daniel McCullers understands that he didn’t come into the league ready to be an immediate contributor. He also knows that he still has a lot more work to put in before he can consider himself a reliable player, let alone a finished product, because he came into the league behind the eight ball in terms of development.
McCullers recently talked with Teresa Varley about his offseason and his development, showing an understanding of what it takes to advance his game to the next level, which has become especially important following the free agency departure of Steve McLendon, who has been the team’s starting nose tackle for the past three seasons.
While the Steelers did draft Javon Hargrave, it is unclear how immediate and extensive his rookie impact will be. In spite of the fact that he was a highly productive college athlete, he is the product of a small school, which comes with it an inherent transition in terms of talent level.
The attributes that attracted the Steelers to McCullers were all physical. Described as an “obstruction” after being selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the big man comes in at 6’7” and is officially listed at 352 pounds, which helped earn him the nickname “Shade Tree”.
But he understands that the game is far more than raw physicality. “I feel like it’s 90 percent mental”, he told Varley. “You can’t just depend on size because the offensive linemen could be quicker, smarter. They have one key over you and it could hurt you”.
To that end, McCullers acknowledged, “I have to work on the fundamentals, leverage”, and as Varley writes, was behind with his development, “but is now making the strides he needs”.
From his perspective, he believes that he has progressed each year. He praised the coaching staff, saying, “I am going to take everything and just keep learning”. Speaking about defensive line coach John Mitchell, he talked about absorbing his daily advice, counting off the names of the great linemen that he has polished into premium NFL talent along the Steelers’ lines over the course of the past couple of decades.
One of the questions that has so far dogged him in his NFL journey is whether or not he has the fight, the drive, the will to succeed at this level. His work ethic and determination have been questioned in the past. There have been jokes made about his demeanor, which underlies a suggestion that there is a lack of passion.
But he sounds like a player who is ready to play, and who wants to play. Talking about the vacancy in the wake of free agency, he said, “it’s a big step for me”, and “I am ready to take it. I want to get better each and every day so I can go out there and play well for that Steelers defense”.
“I have been on and off the field”, he said. “I am going to work my butt off and prove to the coaches I am capable of being a great player”.