It’s been a long time since the Pittsburgh Steelers have had to worry about the nose tackle position. For the past four years, they have had Javon Hargrave manning that spot, he proved to be more than capable of holding up, not just as a pass-rusher, but as a run defender as well.
Before him, Steve McLendon had a brief stint as the starter as a bridge after Casey Hampton retired, and while he never quite lived up to who the Steelers thought he would be a as a pass rusher, he really surprised with his run defense. Hampton, of course, was Hampton, and was simply great at what he did for a decade-plus.
In the one year before Hampton’s arrival in 2001, however, there was that one season in which Kimo von Oelhoffen, coming over from the Cincinnati Bengals as a one-tech defensive tackle in a 4-3 front, served as their nose tackle.
At 6’4” and just around 300 pounds, he wouldn’t even be the prototypical nose tackle of today’s standards. Nose tackles are typically a bit shorter, and at least 15 to 20 pounds heavier. But he put up 44 tackles with six for a loss, plus a sack, a forced fumble, and two passes defensed.
Hampton was drafted a year later and Von Oelhoffen slid outside to defensive end for the next five seasons, before Brett Keisel was promoted to the starting lineup, and we had that great Aaron Smith-Hampton-Keisel trio.
But the point is, Von Oelhoffen—and Chris Hoke, too—showed that you don’t need a 320-pounder to be a successful run-stopping nose tackle. You just have to have the core strength and technique, the speed to make up for any deficiencies, and the willingness to submit to that role.
At nose tackle, right now, the Steelers have Daniel McCullers, who has been a career reserve, and Carlos Davis, a seventh-round pick out of Nebraska. But they also have a trio of defensive ends, likely all three of them being talked about internally as transition candidates to move inside.
Mike Tomlin himself namedropped veteran Tyson Alualu, but I would frankly be surprised if they weren’t also talking about Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley as players who could play nose tackle if it were asked of them.
The nose tackle role isn’t a huge one anymore. Whoever is asked to move inside might only play 100 or so snaps there, with McCullers and/or Davis taking the rest, while also working in along the rotation at defensive end, which usually is actually as a nickel defensive tackle.
Davis told reporters that the coaches asked him to know all three positions. They probably said the same thing to Alualu, Buggs, and Wormley, or will when virtual OTAs begin. Tomlin’s answer, saying they have “some veteran guys who are capable, like Tyson Alualu”, implies that.