For the sixth year in a row, it very much appears as though the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to carry nose tackle Daniel McCullers on the 53-man roster. to what capacity and frequency he actually plays during the regular season remains very much up for debate, and my hinge upon the team’s belief in Tyson Alualu or rookie Isaiah Buggs seeing nose tackle snaps.
It is the case that he has stepped up his game somewhat over the past year and a half, due in part to the fact that he knew he had to start earning contracts after his rookie deal expired, and part to the more beneficial instructional approach Karl Dunbar takes with him that John Mitchell did not.
One thing he had to work on was being more aware, both in the run game and the passing game. That means coming off blocks rather than bulldozing a lineman backward when the running back comes toward you, or being cognizant of the throwing lanes and trying to disrupt them.
He looks to do that on this play above on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ opening drive. Off the snap, he shows his innate strength working against the center, whom he has hopping backward. McCullers works to his right, and as Jameis Winston turns to throw, shows the awareness to get his hands up to try to swat the ball down, though the play resulted in a completion.
On a later drive, McCullers again displayed the ability to win off the snap. Another historical issue for him was getting off the ball, but he does so here with a quick punch that helps him turn the edge on the center. While the throw is out quickly, the big man is starting to show what they wanted to see out of him all along. At least in a preseason game.
On the next play, running back Andre Ellington is able to bounce a run outside for a nice little gain of seven, but that’s partly because of McCullers’ ability to clog up the middle. He tried to make the tackle himself, stacking and shedding, but there was too much real estate for Ellington to work off the edge.
At the end of the first quarter here, he is credited with the tackle on a one-yard gain, evidently tripping up the back, but it’s a bit difficult to see with the broadcast angle. He gets released with the lineman working up to a second-level block.
Finally, early in the second quarter, on that fourth and one play that Devin Bush and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi made, one of the reasons the former was able to come clean was because of McCullers, who took on a block and a half, including the center, whom he was able to turn a bit inside. Bush had a bigger gap to shoot as a result of that.
The thing I was most pleased about his performance against the Buccaneers, however, was the relative absence of negative plays. The biggest issue of McCullers’ career was never ability but rather consistency. If he could simply play to his capabilities on every play, he could be a good player for sure.