Daniel McCullers has more lives than your common house cat. But 2020 seems to be his final chance to prove he can make an impact. Speaking with reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday, Keith Butler explained what they hope to see from Big Dan this season.
“I think it’s gotta be this year for him to put it all together,” he said via the team website. “We’ve got a pretty good defensive line. As big as he is, when we play the three man front or what we’ll call okie, then he’s going to be singled up a lot on the center. And if he is, he’s got to take that center and push and put him in the quarterback’s lap. He should be able to do that because he’s a big man.”
Size and strength have always been McCullers’ calling cards though he appears to have slimmed down a bit heading into his seventh season. Over the years, he’s bullied smaller centers and guards in OL/DL drills during training camp. That’s carried over a bit to the regular season but not often enough. He’ll have to show more consistency and ability to do everything else, run stunt, flow versus zone schemes, and run to the football, to be the team’s starting nose tackle. Entering the final year of his contract, Butler knows it’s do or die.
“He understands that this year is kind of make it or break it year for him. And I think he’ll end up helping us in that regard.”
Drafting in the 6th round in the 2014 draft, McCullers has started only three games and recorded 2.5 sacks. Though it’s commendable for him to last in the league as long as he has, few 6th round picks make it to year seven, we pointed out in the offseason how unusual it is for a team to hang onto a career backup for so long.
McCullers will battle Tyson Alualu for starting nose tackle duties. Butler discussed the different element Alualu brings to the team.
“Tyson is a good player for us too. He does a good job for us inside and outside. He’s a little bit more versatile that he can go inside and outside and play and be a good player.”
The team has been coy about who is leading the battle in the middle but it’s more likely than not Alualu opens the year as the starting nose tackle. Even if that’s the case, McCullers figures to be active on gameday and rotate into the lineup for a handful of snaps per game. The Steelers goal is to make the loss of Javon Hargrave a little less noticeable. They’ll find out quickly how good their run defense is, facing top RB Saquon Barkley in the Week 1 Monday Night opener.