Daniel McCullers is entering his seventh season in the NFL. Over the course of his first seven years, he has watched the Pittsburgh Steelers lose two starting nose tackles in free agency, first Steve McLendon in 2016, and now Javon Hargrave this offseason. Hargrave was a third-round rookie in 2016 when he lapped a third-year McCullers for the top spot on the depth chart that year.
What does the 2020 season hold in store for ‘Shade Tree’, the mammoth 6’7”, 350-pound defensive tackle out of Tennessee? He played in all 16 games for only the second time in his career in 2019, posting his second-most defensive snaps played, registering eight total tackles and a pass defensed.
But when head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to address how he would handle the nose tackle position at the start of training camp, he told reporters that Tyson Alualu, historically a defensive end, would take the first snaps there.
For the bulk of his career, fans have field McCullers as something of a disappointment even if he was only a sixth-round pick, and at this point has greatly exceeded the average career of a sixth-round defensive tackle just by his longevity alone. But at a certain point in your career it doesn’t matter what your pedigree was once upon a time. It’s about where you’re going next.
Yesterday, Steelers defensive captain and fellow lineman Cameron Heyward gave the big man a shoutout on his Instagram page in a story. Posting an image of the two of them together, he wrote, “I’m so proud of this dude…y’all just don’t know! You get what you put in!!”.
— Steelers Depot 🏆👑 (@Steelersdepot) July 22, 2020
As we have previously discussed, the Steelers defensive linemen have been perhaps the one position group on the roster that has managed to consistently get together and work out, at least Heyward, McCullers, and Alualu, with others more sporadic in their group participation general for location reasons.
It’s true that we as fans generally don’t see the kind of work most players put in during the offseason. I don’t think McCullers even has a public social media account, so he’s not going to be posting videos of himself tossing trees around.
But I do trust Heyward when he says, or at least implies, that he’s been watching McCullers put in the work this offseason. He has a big opportunity in front of himself in 2020 to secure a larger role, perhaps for more than one season. He realizes this, and hopefully it translates in camp and then on the field.