Is Daniel McCullers at the end of the road? It would certainly appear that way. In spite of the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers had very little to play for in the regular season finale, going so far as to rest Cameron Heyward, the fourth-year nose tackle was hardly even able to see the field, logging just two snaps.
It is little surprise that he failed to record a tackle in that game, and, in fact, he has had just one tackle for the entire season. Even as a rookie, he managed to record two tackles. But it doesn’t help that he only dressed for five games. He was active for nine as a rookie.
The former sixth-round pick entered this season talking up his ambitions, yet he was hardly ever given the opportunity. In fact, he barely played, only ever logging a relative handful of snaps even in the games in which he was active. His most meaningful role was on the field goal blocking unit.
McCullers talked about being the slimmest he has been in his career. He talked about working on a spin move, which, honestly, sounded absurd on the face of it, and which he was never given the opportunity to unleash. He talked about, heading into the finale, his ability and willingness to play in any package and in any role.
Saying things, however, was never enough, and the coaching staff—primarily, no doubt, defensive line coach John Mitchell—had seen or not seen enough of McCullers to make the determination that it was unnecessary for him to see the field very often. Even while Stephon Tuitt battled injuries in the first half of the season, his playing time was minimal.
Sunday’s game against the Browns was something of a last shot. Barring injury, it is likely that he will not even dress for another game this season, and there is a more than reasonable chance that the Steelers do not offer him a second contract.
Pittsburgh has found a five-man rotation that suits them quite nicely, already trying to find more ways to get second-year nose tackle Javon Hargrave on the field more frequently. Tyson Alualu has been a revelation in terms of providing quality depth at the end position.
But the biggest blow to McCullers was the continuing emergence of L.T. Walton, a third-year player who over the course of the offseason more or less learned and took away the backup nose tackle position.
It would only be fair to add that it isn’t entirely his fault, but also largely the nature of the way that the game has evolved, and how the Steelers’ defensive philosophy has evolved with it.
Hargrave is the prototype of the new nose tackle, and yet even he has struggled to see the field. Rare are the instances in which a 350-pounders lacking agility—particularly lateral agility—is particularly useful, and so there are few remaining who contribute meaningfully.