There has been a lot of talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their reunion this week with one of their own former teammates when they face the New York Jets on Sunday, that being running back Le’Veon Bell, who spent his first five seasons here before sitting out last season.
He’s not the only alumnus they’ll be seeing on the field, though. There’s also Steve McLendon, who signed with the Jets in free agency four years ago when he was an unrestricted free agent, and which prompted the team to draft Javon Hargrave in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
McLendon has remained a fixture for the Jets, not only on the field, but in the locker room as well, and has now played under two different head coaches while there, in his first season under Adam Gase. While he has survived regime change, he has tried to bring lessons learned from Pittsburgh to New York.
As he told the New York Post for an articles contrasting the two teams’ cultures, McLendon said, “they live by one rule over there: Next man up. Whenever you take the field you take it as a team and you don’t make excuses. That’s how they play over there. They don’t care who it is playing. They call it ‘nameless gray faces’. That’s how they think”.
That mentality has been more important this season than ever, with the offense often taking the field with such nameless gray faces as Devlin Hodges, Tevin Jones, Deon Cain, Kerrith Whyte, and others. Even players like Kameron Kelly, coming over from the AAF, have had moments on defense in which they were asked to contribute. He started in the season opener.
This probably hits close for McLendon, because he was one of those nameless gray faces who became the next man up. An undrafted rookie out of Troy in 2009, he spent his rookie season on the practice squad, then bounced on and off the roster in 2010.
By 2013, he had worked his way up the depth chart and in the coaches’ eyes that they were comfortable with him inheriting the starting nose tackle job from Casey Hampton, whom in the team’s mind deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
McLendon would spend three years starting for the Steelers among six in total (not including his rookie year on the practice squad) before taking the Jets’ offer in free agency. He has spent the past four years there and has been a fixture in the starting lineup.
At 33 years old, I think it’s fair to say at this point that he has carved out a nice career for himself. He’s earned over $20 million to date and is still under contract next season. And there’s no doubt that his time in Pittsburgh helped prepare him for said career, not to mention the opportunity they provided for him to grow.