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Steelers' McCullers making steady progress

8/14/2014

LATROBE, Pa. -- He didn't qualify as one of the stars of training camp.

But he didn't look lost or overwhelmed either. That would have been pretty easy to tell since it's hard to miss Daniel McCullers when the 6-foot-7, 352-pound defensive lineman is on the field.

McCullers -- "Big Dan" to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin -- has put himself in position to make the 53-man roster after a solid camp.

And probably the surest sign that McCullers, who turned 22 on Monday, is squarely on the Steelers' radar is how much attention he receives from veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell.

Mitchell, during a practice earlier this week, could not contain his excitement after watching McCullers help the defensive line string out a running play. Mitchell offered encouraging words seeing McCullers move so well laterally.

Of course, Mitchell is also never shy about telling his players what they need to do to get better, and McCullers is no exception.

He got a full dose of Mitchell at training camp.

"It doesn't matter if it's on the field, off the field, when you walk into the elevator, he's always going to be on you," said McCullers, who was the second of the two sixth-round picks that the Steelers selected in the 2014 NFL draft. "It did take a little getting used to but I had to adjust. That's just how he is. You need that in a coach to be on you and make sure you do everything right because he wants you to be perfect."

McCullers has been far from perfect.

But he does not appear to be as big a project as initially thought after the Steelers took the Tennessee product with the 214th overall pick of the draft.

McCullers did well enough during the first two weeks of training camp to receive a decent amount of playing time in the Steelers' preseason opener last Saturday night. McCullers logged 22 snaps -- Hebron Fangupo, who is ahead of him on the depth chart played just eight -- and was credited with a tackle in the Steelers' 20-16 loss to the Giants.

It will be interesting to see how much McCullers plays Saturday night against the Bills.

Steve McLendon, who missed the preseason opener because of a concussion, is expected to play against Buffalo and make snaps less plentiful for the reserves.

The Steelers, however, probably want to take another extended look at McCullers given the strides he made at St. Vincent College.

"He's doing a nice job of really working the techniques and really getting better from an assignment standpoint," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He has a distinguishing characteristic -- he's an enormous man and one that's difficult to move. But I think day in and day out he's proven that he's more than that. He likes to play football [and] he comes to work every day. I like the progress that he's making but obviously he has some progress ahead of him."