Multiple #Steelers players told me at end of season that a Casey Hampton-type space eater in middle could upgrade declining run defense.— Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) March 14, 2014
After being known as one of the best run stuffing units in the league over the last decade, The Steelers run defense took a bit of a nose dive in 2013, giving up uncharacteristically big yardage per game as well as allowing game changing long runs from the likes of Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Daniel Thomas. Yes, Daniel Thomas who?
One of the lightning rods for run defense criticism has been new nose tackle Steve McLendon. Some would argue that he is not as big as a nose tackle should be, and therefore not able to perform the role of the gap-eating behemoth we usually associate with the nose tackle position in the Steelers 3-4 defense.
In contrast, McLendon's predecessor, Casey Hampton, was the archetype gap-eating behemouth, and anchored a great Steelers run defense for over a decade. The principal criticism against McLendon is that he is not Hampton, which is both obvious and unfair, because Hampton is one of the best nose tackles of all time.
But it is fair to say McLendon does not play like Hampton, he is not as strong nor does he frequently occupy multiple blockers the way Hampton use too, and some attribute this as the main factor in the decline of the run defense.
Of course McLendon has his supporters too, and the issue has been hotly debated over the course of the season and into the off-season.
However, if what Robinson says is true, and he has no real reason to lie, then it appears "several" Steelers players also attribute McLendon's inability to eat up multiple blockers as a large source of the problem. If they are advocating for a "Casey Hampton-type space eater" then they are also advocating the replacement of Steve McLendon.
Robinson didn't specify how many players actually said this, he only said "multiple players", but even a few is enough to be seen as a damning criticism of Mclendon's job at Nose Tackle. If the players you're playing with don't think you can get the job done, then something is wrong.
The Steelers are hosting Nose Tackle Cam Thomas today, and with their lack of depth along the defensive line it would seem likely they look to address both the defensive end and nose tackle position in the draft.