2020 Training Camp Battles: Starting Nose Tackle

Daniel McCullers hitting Aaron Rodgers

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: Starting Job

In the Mix: Daniel McCullers, Tyson Alualu, Carlos Davis

It’s hard to say really who’s in the driver’s seat here, but with Mike Tomlin telling reporters last month that his intentions are to have Tyson Alualu take the first snaps at nose tackle, one would be inclined to favor him. This in spite of the fact that he would be moving to nose tackle from defensive end, while Daniel McCullers has played nose tackle for the past six seasons.

Granted, the former sixth-round pick has only played the position as a reserve. A third-year player when Javon Hargrave was drafted in 2016, he instantly lost the competition to start, seeking a replacement for Steve McLendon, who left in free agency.

Hargrave followed suit, only for way more money, signing a three-year, $39 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Pittsburgh did not address the nose tackle position in free agency, and they only added Carlos Davis in the seventh round. The last seventh-round nose tackle they drafted didn’t even make the practice squad even though his position coach also coached him in college.

While ‘new’ to the position, so to speak, Alualu has 10 years of NFL experience under his belt, and has had consistent playing time during his three years with the Steelers as the top reserve and regular spot starter. His strength in the run game favors the move as well.

The important thing to remember, of course, is that the nose tackle is only going to see a limited amount of snaps, which can be anywhere between about 200 or 400 snaps. It’s unlikely to be much more than that unless a series of game circumstances—such as a bunch of blowout losses—dictate that they defend the run a lot.

McCullers has only averaged about 100 snaps per season in his career, and his performance has been, let’s say, variable. Alualu has been very serviceable in his role, but playing at nose tackle extensively, and without the benefit of a proper offseason, will be a challenge even for such a veteran.

As for Davis, it’s far to call him a longshot, not just to win the nose tackle job but to even make the roster, as the team already has six other defensive linemen in the mix, including Chris Wormley and Isaiah Buggs at defensive end. He will have to maximize every rep that he gets, fighting an uphill battle.

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