In less than two weeks, we’ll be at training camp, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90 man roster roll through 14 practices and four games. There will be so much to learn, tons of things going on, so I want to lay out some of my expectations and hopes for each player before things start up and, frankly, all this speculation becomes irrelevant.
We’ll finish out the team’s defensive line today with the nose tackles.
Daniel McCullers: This is usually where I lean on anything I said in my “One Step To Take” series and do again here. McCullers has to show he’s in terrific shape and embrace the task of playing a ton of reps. He’s the starting nose tackle and the team needs to find out what kind of player he is. Only way to do that is give him reps. As we looked in that series, McCullers rarely was asked to play long series so that’s something he’ll have to get used to. I want to see the team leave him in a little longer at times, at the end of practice, keeping him in as they sub the second team DL in. See how he responds, huffing and puffing at the end of a hot day.
Also want to see him improve his pad level, play with more of an edge, and show he’s capable of being a vocal leader. Straight up bully the center in 11 on 11 or individual work. No mercy this year. This is the best – maybe only – shot he has.
Javon Hargrave: We know Hargrave is an explosive player who has shown the ability to shed blocks as a pass rusher at every level he’s been at. But we don’t know how he handles two-gapping and dealing with routine combo blocks by the center and guard. That didn’t happen to him a lot at South Carolina State. Having a serviceable run defense out of nickel is vital and if Hargrave struggles in the preseason, it could limit him to being used in just passing situations. So run defense, strength and technique, is critical.
Roy Philon: Back in his second Steelers’ camp. Not entirely sure how the team decided to invite him two years later but all that matters is that he’s back. I remember snaps being very limited for him in his first go-around so he’ll have to make his mark early to emerge from the pack of other players on this list. There are definitely third team snaps up for grabs here. A better start will contrast what he did in 2014 too; it wasn’t until the very end of camp that he started making some plays.
Lavon Hooks: Hooks was a widely praised talent whose career didn’t pan out at Ole Miss. He spent last camp with the Green Bay Packers before signing a futures deal with Pittsburgh. He’s got some decent size at 6’3, 312, giving him an advantage over Philon and Devaunte Sigler. He’ll have to play to that frame to jump ahead in the rotation.
Devaunte Sigler: His best season came in 2014 and he must recapture that form. He’s undersized and heck, may end up playing end, so I’m not expecting his run defense to be stellar. But if he can be disruptive and show he can win when one-gapping, he’ll get noticed. Realistically, you’re not going to be perfect everywhere as a UDFA. But if you can show you’re good in at least one area, the coaching staff will be more willing to invest and work with you.