While naturally it is already late in the proceedings, nearly a week after the game, I still wanted to circle back and take a look at a few of the fringe players who ended up making the 53-man roster or the practice squad in large part due to the success that that had in the preseason finale for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I think one of the players that really helped save their jobs with a positive performance in the final preseason game was fourth-year nose tackle Daniel McCullers, who a couple of days out seems to have preserved for himself a roster spot, though the team does still have to make a roster move before Sunday’s kickoff.
The former sixth-round pick was embattled this year more than ever, seeing L.T. Walton supplant him as the top backup nose tackle and resulting in him being pushed at the end of the depth chart by Johnny Maxey and Lavon Hooks. The latter did make the practice squad, but the former has yet to land anywhere.
Early in the second half, the 6’7” lineman got some time in the nickel defense working as a pass rusher. On one snap, he bull-rushed up the A gap and drove the center back in the pocket, though not before Carolina was able to convert on third and five.
On the next play, still running out of the nickel, McCullers—as the left down lineman—actually showed some situational awareness that he has often lacked by trying to scrape through traffic down the line, in doing so making the tackle on the running back after a three-yard gain.
Much later in the quarter, and still in the nickel, ‘Shade Tree’ once again displayed his raw strength on the bull rush, driving the right guard into his quarterback for a hit, but, again, the pass was off in time and complete for nine yards on first down.
Midway through the fourth quarter now, and, as was most of his playing time, in the nickel defense, McCullers did well to hold up at the line of scrimmage. As the best neared him, he tried to shed, but the runner cut the other way. The big man still managed to power around the offensive lineman to assist on the tackle after a one-yard gain.
On the final defensive play of the game, which bought the offense the opportunity for an ultimately successful game-winning drive, it was indeed the big man out of Tennessee who, this time in their 4-3 over front as the tilted nose, made the winning play. He displayed excellent timing and burst off the snap, driving back and burying the right guard. The penetration opened the gates for the defense to swarm and make the stop for a loss and force a punt.
While a lot of people ended up writing him off—and it is absolutely true that a fourth-year veteran should look good beating up on bottom-of-the roster players on other teams—I do think that McCullers quietly had himself a mostly-good preseason. After all, if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be here still.