It would seem at this point that all but the charter members of the Shade Tree Fan Club have given up on fifth-year nose tackle Daniel McCullers becoming a meaningful contributor to the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ defensive line, let alone the sort of dominant player that his 6’7″, 350-pound frame suggests he should be.
There’s a reason he was available in the sixth round back in 2014, of course. He may be a giant of a man, but he didn’t play like it in college, and he hasn’t at this level either. After four seasons, it’s hard to still hold onto that hope that he will turn the proverbial corner and actually play up to his frame.
Not that he’s given up on himself yet. The big man told Ed Bouchette during OTAs that he is in his best shape, though we have pretty much heard that line every year since his rookie season. He has to know he’s on his last legs, however, after the team nearly didn’t re-sign him, and after they used a draft pick on Joshua Frazier.
“It’s a big training camp coming up,”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette scribe. “I’m coming in at my best shape and [showing] them I’m ready, just go out there and dominate every deal like I can. Take no breaks; if you get tired, keep going, keep pushing. Use my technique and stay low, that’s what they’re looking for”.
The main criticism of his play over the years is that he plays to his personality, which is laid-back. He has been told this for years, even from the likes of Joe Greene, but we have never seen that light switch turn on through his first four seasons. With his job under threat more than ever, is this the time that we finally see the fire?
“I would say I need to be more aggressive on the field”, he told Bouchette. “They won’t play you if you’re not aggressive. I have to be aggressive every play and be dominant”.
He will need to be in his pursuit of retaining his roster spot, because the Steelers not only have added Frazier to the mix—and not to mention his position coach in Karl Dunbar—they have also retained all six defensive linemen on the roster from a season ago. And he surely noticed that he actually barely played last year, even with injuries.
The big blow was when the Steelers started giving defensive end L.T. Walton some reps during OTAs last season at nose tackle. He ended up showing them enough in that role that they were comfortable with him taking over the backup job to Javon Hargrave, which was previously McCullers’ role. So he spent most of the year as a healthy scratch and only played about a dozen snaps.
While he said that he was disappointed by that, he affirmed, “I want to be a part of this team. I feel I can contribute a lot. I like the system, I like the plays, I feel like I can make a big impact”. If only he had done that during his first four seasons, he would have been playing all along, and not fighting for his job now. Here’s to hoping it’s not too little, too late for Big Dan.