The Steelers can entertain the possibility of moving McLendon from nose tackle to defensive end, though that is anything but a given despite the need that they have at the position.
Thomas may be more of a traditional nose tackle than McLendon, and the 6-4, 330-pounder started 10 games there last season and recorded 23 tackles while intercepting a pass.
Thomas also has the flexibility to play defensive end, and his signing at the very least adds depth to the defensive line.
Thomas, whose nickname is "Baby Zilla," is only 27 years old and he was a fifth-round pick by the Chargers in the 2010 NFL draft. The Steelers had been interested in him when he was coming out of the University of North Carolina.
Thomas signed with the Steelers during a visit to Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are meeting with former Bills defensive end Alex Carrington this afternoon.
Whether the Steelers need an upgrade at nose tackle is a question that has stirred considerable debate.
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The Steelers did not re-sign five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton last year, and they allowed 115.6 rushing yards per game in 2013 after yielding just 90.6 rushing yards per game the previous season.
That decline coincided with McLendon’s first year as a starter, raising questions as to whether the fourth-year veteran is more suited for defensive end or playing in a rotation in which he gets snaps at both end and nose tackle.
To pin the Steelers’ struggles in stopping the run solely on McLendon, however, would be unfair and inaccurate as inexperience at inside linebacker also contributed to them.
The signing of Thomas will fuel speculation that the Steelers intend to move McLendon to defensive end given how thin they are at the position.
Cameron Heyward is the only defensive end on the roster with significant NFL experience, and the Steelers lost Ziggy Hood and Al Woods to the Jaguars and Titans, respectively, earlier this week.