During the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost veteran nose tackle Steve McLendon to free agency as the former undrafted free agent out of Troy signed a three year, $10.5 million contract with the New York Jets. With McLendon now out of the picture, former sixth-round draft pick Daniel McCullers now has a chance to show that he can be a starter in the team’s base defense.
McCullers, however, knows that in order to secure that job during training camp and the preseason that he’ll need to step up his game. During a recent interview on Steelers Nation Radio, McCullers was asked about what areas of his game he needs to make improvements in.
“I would just say everything. My technique and my skill development,” said McCullers, who enters his third season in Pittsburgh with 10 total career tackles and a half a sack in 168 regular season snaps played. “Use my hands, staying low each and every play and just focusing on my leverage and that’s the biggest thing for me.”
McCullers is also well-aware that since McLendon signed elsewhere that he has a chance to become the team’s starting nose tackle in the base 3-4 defense for at least the next two seasons.
“It’s a very big opportunity,” he said. “All of the coaches know that I can do it and I’m just going to out there and practice each and every day and get better, and have a good season.”
With McLendon leaving in March, the Steelers made sure to address the interior of their defensive line in this year’s draft by selecting defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the third-round out of South Carolina State and McCullers was asked to talk about the young player in his recent interview.
“Yeah, he’s a great young player, he’s a third round pick, so he’s going to do a great job for the Steelers,” McCullers said. “He’s going to keep working to get better, but I feel whenever I play like I’m supposed to play, I can be a starter. So I’ll just keep working and hopefully he gets some time too, and plays great too.”
McCullers was then asked to describe the differences between Hargrave and himself.
“Javon, he’s much shorter than I am,” McCullers said. “He’s quicker and so I just have to keep working and work on my technique and my leverage.”
While Hargrave will more than likely see playing time initially as a reserve sub package defensive tackle, McCullers still has confidence that he can be the team’s plugger in the middle of the team’s base 3-4 personnel grouping.
“I can be that force and help stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback,” McCullers said. “I feel like I can do a great job at that, so I just got to keep working.”
Through the first four training camp practices, Hargrave has received rave reviews for his play and it will be interesting to see how the battle between him and McCullers develops through the rest of camp. McCullers has undoubtedly had some great mentors so far during his young career in Pittsburgh to learn from in McLendon and defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
“Just the way they work each and every day, the way they practice,” said McCullers. “They practice hard, they run to the ball every play, they’re good with their technique. So just pick up little keys and stuff from them which will help me in the long run.”