Steve McLendon entered last season with a shot to show that he was Casey Hampton's replacement. Many were enamored with fourth round pick Alameda Ta'amu but McLendon had the faith of Defensive Line coach John Mitchell who cautioned, “Everybody wants to discard McLendon. Let me tell you this, hold your opinion until the season is over. I’m just saying keep your opinion until after the season, then you make the decision.” It's a year later and it seems that we still don't know what we have in Steve McLendon, but John Mitchell's faith in him has to provide some measure of confidence.
Last year, McLendon welcomed the challenges and expectations that come with being the starter. “I want to be great,” McLendon said. “I have taken my work ethic to the next level. I am pushing myself every day. If the stars are where I want to reach, I need to reach past them. The expectations are really, really high. That should be of everybody in the Steelers organization. The expectation is to win the Super Bowl and be great.” He has not lost any of that confidence coming off a year with 7 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble in limited snaps as Hampton's backup.
McLendon has shown some bright spots, but the return of Hampton stifled his coming out party. His play in the 2012/2013 season was enough to solidify his role as a starter next year (albeit with a little help from Ta'amu nearly shaming himself off of the team), get a visit with Green Bay, and a 3 year deal with the Steelers. Despite all of this, it still feels like this is the year where we will see if he can be a long-term solution as the starting Defensive Tackle. While he has to be the favorite over Al Woods, Alameda Ta'amu, and Hebron Fangupo, he will have to prove that he can handle the majority of snaps and still be as effective as he has shown in spurts to this point in time.
With no obvious competitors for the starting job this year barring and unlikely return of Casey Hampton, the spotlight has been on him more even than last year. When asked about his goals as a nose tackle he responded with, “I want to be powerful and strong like Casey Hampton, I want to be able to be smart like Chris Hoke. I want to be quick like Jay Ratliff.” He also reaffirmed his ambition to be great later in the interview by saying, “I’m not coming here to be good, I want to be great.” This quote, at face value, seems like McLendon acknowledging other player's and aspiring to take what they do well into his game. I believe it is also speaks to his fundamental approach in his attempt to become great.
His approach to getting himself ready by focusing on parts of others games that he finds applicable extends beyond the skills of other football players. He has been preparing for his season by training himself in other sports to give himself the edge over his competition. He has mentioned utilizing aspects of Karate, Baseball, Swimming, and Ballet in his training over the years. Whether he can distill the “Discipline” of Karate or the “Eye Coordination” of Baseball will be on display this year. But this multi-sport training, specifically the Ballet training that he has done, draws parallel to a previous Steeler great who attributed his success in part due to his time in Ballet.