The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped things up in minicamp and put an end to their spring practices, which means that we are officially into the dead zone, the slowest time of the year for football news and general activity, the time between the end of spring drills in mid-June to the opening of training camps in late July.
Before we get there, we are going to take a look at how the team’s roster has evolved since prior to the draft, the last time that we broke down the Steelers by position, and obviously a lot has changed since they have fleshed out their 90-man roster.
Position: Nose Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 5
Daniel McCullers: Daniel McCullers has a critical opportunity in front of him following the free agent departure of Steve McLendon, who has been the Steelers’ starting nose tackle for the past three season. While the nose tackle position itself may be becoming a bit of a dinosaur, it is still a situationally critical position, and McCullers is by far the biggest obstruction on the roster. He can be penciled in as the starter for now heading into training camp, even if he has shown little as of yet.
Roy Philon: Former undrafted free agent Roy Philon spent an offseason with the Steelers a short while ago, but he struggled to find much work during training camp and the preseason. When he did see the field, he seemed a bit of a sparkplug, even if he is undersized for a traditional nose tackle—which may be to his advantage this time around.
Lavon Hooks: Despite reportedly turning some heads early on as an undrafted free agent, Lavon Hooks was part of the initial roster cuts for the Packers in 2015, and was out of the league until the Steelers recently signed him to a Reserve/Future contract.
Javon Hargrave: Understanding the importance not only of replacing McLendon, but replacing the nose tackle position with a more dynamic one that can offer something as a pass rusher, the Steelers used their third-round draft pick on Javon Hargrave, a small-school player who was a giant among insects against his peers at that level.
The Steelers believe that his skill set that he demonstrated there is transferrable to the NFL level, but he may still have a learning curve as he adjusts to the talent level. He could push McCullers to start at nose tackle, but he should also be a sub-package defensive tackle.
Devaunte Sigler: From the looks of his college tape and his physical attributes, Devaunte Sigler seems to be in a somewhat similar mold to Hargrave, though on a much lower level, otherwise he wouldn’t have been an undrafted free agent. But it seems to be what the Steelers are looking for.
Notes and Camp Outlook: I hope that people do not underestimate the importance of adequately replacing what McLendon did for the defense during his time in the starting lineup, even if being a nose tackle doesn’t mean what it once did. It is still critical in short-yardage and goal line situations, which is what they hope McCullers can do. But Hargrave is the future, and if he can show that he can also perform in that capacity, he may start sooner than later. He may end up playing more snaps than McCullers anyway in the nickel.