With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.
This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.
Position: Nose Tackle
Up for Grabs: Backup Role
In the Mix: Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs
While the starting nose tackle job may come down to Daniel McCullers and Tyson Alualu, the backup role can afford to be more expansive. If McCullers wins the job, for example, then Alualu can get a lot more snaps at defensive end, allowing somebody like the rookie Davis the opportunity to make headway. If Alualu wins, on the other hands, it’s not unreasonable to argue that McCullers and his $1.5 million base salary can be cut, because…how much is a backup nose tackle worth?
I include Isaiah Buggs in this discussion in spite of the fact that, to date, we have heard no word regarding him being asked to ready himself to play there. The reality is that we haven’t heard anything from or about him since before the 2020 NFL Draft, and things have changed since then. At the time, early in the offseason, he told the team’s website that the was told in his exit meeting to keep his weight down like his rookie season, but ensuing events may have changed that.
If he doesn’t factor in at defensive tackle, Buggs will likely be a healthy scratch as a fourth defensive end this year, with Chris Wormley above him, and Alualu capable of playing both inside and outside, whether he ‘starts’ at nose tackle or not.
Things ultimately should come down to Alualu and McCullers, the latter having six years of experience playing the position in the Steelers’ system, and having shown some growth over the past two years since Karl Dunbar was hired to take over the defensive line coaching responsibilities.
Mike Tomlin has already said that Alualu will be asked to take the first snaps at nose tackle in training camp, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are leaning toward him being their primary nose tackle. It may well mean that they recognize he needs more work, since he has played defensive end and not a true 3-4-front nose position.