PHOENIX -- Steve McLendon had the misfortune of following Casey Hampton, who made five Pro Bowls in 12 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and looked the part of nose tackle as much as any player ever did.
But McLendon, a battler who made the NFL as an undrafted free agent, has held his own since replacing Hampton in the middle of Steelers’ defense. The fifth-year veteran received a vote of confidence from coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday.
McLendon fought through a recurring shoulder in jury that cost him four games in 2014 to record 18 tackles and a sack. The 6-foot-4 McLendon, who played at around 330 pounds last season, also helped the Steelers finish sixth in the NFL in rushing defense (100.3 yards per game) in 2014.
“I was really pleased with his growth and development over the last 12 months, particularly during the season,” Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings. “It was a difficult season for him because he faced some injury adversity, but I think that’s an opportunity for growth. I think he displayed that growth in terms of how he dealt with the discomfort associated with injuries and how he was able to push through and be what it is we needed him to be in the midst of those things.”
A couple of notes:
Dri Archer will not only get a chance to win back the kickoff returner job he lost last season, but the 2014 third-round draft pick might also get an opportunity to return punts with the Steelers possibly looking to ease the burden on All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. “I’m excited about where (punt returner) may go for us this year whether it’s Antonio Brown, whether it’s Dri Archer whether it’s a player to be named later,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin has been asked several times at the owners meetings about the early retirement of Jason Worilds and has applauded the former Steelers outside linebacker for following his heart. “I respect any man’s decision to choose to work in this business or not work in this business,” Tomlin said. “It’s a tough way to earn a living. And you have to be 100 percent committed to it, and if you are not then that is the appropriate decision. I champion that.
Tomlin has no imminent plans to add another coach to his staff. The Steelers seemingly have an opening for a defensive assistant after Joey Porter and Jerry Olsavsky were promoted to fill Keith Butler’s spot at linebackers coach -- they are splitting duties -- when Butler succeeded Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator. Tomlin said he might hire another defensive assistant, or not. “We are comfortable with the collection of men that we have working right now,” Tomlin said.