The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have a lot of holes on their team, at least at the top end. There are really two roles yet to figure out. One of them is a starting offensive line role, which will come at either left guard or right tackle. The other is at nose tackle, and the only obvious candidate is Daniel McCullers, who has been with the team since the Vietnam War, or so it seems.
The position became a question mark after fifth-year veteran Javon Hargrave made good on his talent and cashed in during free agency, signing a three-year, $39 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, which included a total of $26 million that is fully guaranteed, his full compensation through the first two years of the deal.
Hargrave has been ‘the guy’ at nose tackle for the past four years, the successor to Steve McLendon, whom they also lost in free agency. He immediately bypassed McCullers for that job. But now the big man doesn’t really have any competition. That doesn’t mean he’ll be handed the job, as Cameron Heyward told The Athletic.
“We have a guy like Dan McCullers who I think he is in his seventh year and this is his time”, he said. “He either becomes our full-time nose tackle and we can supplement around him because we have guys like Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs and Tyson Alualu, who can play multiple positions. We can supplement him with other guys, or does Dan trickle back? That’s what we have to find out and we won’t find out until training camp”.
In addition to the players named above, the Steelers used a 2020 seventh-round draft pick on Carlos Davis out of Nebraska, who has said that the coaches informed him to learn all three positions along the defensive line. Outside of Zoom meetings, however, nobody really knows about him yet, so it’s not a surprise that teammates aren’t yet talking about him.
No matter how small a role, the nose tackle still is a meaningful position in the NFL. Back in the nose tackle’s heyday, the nickel cornerback still meant something. Now the roles are reversed, but like then with the slot defender, if you don’t have a legitimate nose tackle, then you’re going to get exposed, and teams will exploit you.
One thing to McCullers’ credit is that he has responded better in the past two years to Karl Dunbar’s coaching methods along the defensive line than he did with John Mitchell. That doesn’t mean he should be in a ‘starting’ role, such that it is one. But he may end up being their best option, all the same. Then again, his $1.5 million base salary could potentially fund a free agent alternative if he’s deemed not good enough.