<
>

Pittsburgh Steelers position update: NT

This is the ninth in a series that takes a post-training camp look at every position. Next up is nose tackle.

Players on the roster: Steve McLendon, Daniel McCullers, Hebron Fangupo, Roy Philon and Al Lapuaho.

Projected starter: McLendon. The fifth-year veteran bulked up to 330 pounds to handle the rigors of playing nose tackle in his second season as a starter. McLendon will play limited snaps because of the frequency that the Steelers are in their nickel defense. But his improvement will be critical to the Steelers improving on the 115.6 rushing yards per game they allowed in 2013.

Projected number on 53-man roster: Two. McCullers appears to be distancing himself from Fangupo, who spent all of last season on the 53-man roster but played just 13 snaps.

Rookie watch: McCullers is a near-lock to make the team and he has the look of an eventual starter. “Big Dan,” as coach Mike Tomlin calls him, still has a long way to go but his size makes the sixth-round draft pick unique, and McCullers moves very well for a player listed at 6-foot-7 and 352 pounds.

What we learned in camp: McCullers was a revelation at St. Vincent College and he is another reason the Steelers look like they nailed the 2014 NFL draft. He has enormous potential and if anyone can get the most out of the Tennessee product it is veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell. A concussion limited McLendon and this is a big year for him. The former undrafted free agent has to show significant improvement in his second season since taking over for Casey Hampton at nose tackle if he is to figure in the Steelers’ long-range plans.

He said it: “He’s doing a nice job of really working the techniques and really getting better from an assignment standpoint. 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.” -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on McCullers.