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Steelers 2014 Roster Projections: Nose tackles

Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon say they've never been talked to about switching positions - McLendon to end or Hood to nose tackle. A few decisions need to be among among Pittsburgh's defensive line in 2014, and it starts with nose tackle.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who will be unrestricted free agents when their currents contracts expire March 21, so management has quite a few decisions to make before the roster is set.

Here is a position-by-position look at the current players and what could occur during the upcoming months. This ninth story looks at the nose tackles.

PITTSBURGH -- One thing is certain about Steve McLendon. He's no Casey Hampton. But who could be? Hampton was the prototypical nose tackle with a low center of gravity, size, strength and surprising quickness. Hampton occupied two and three blockers in his heyday for the Steelers.

McLendon has two years remaining on the three-year contract he signed before last season. He is scheduled to make $2.425 million this year and $2.25 million in 2015 before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2016. An undrafted rookie in 2010, McLendon made some plays in limited snaps the next two seasons as Hampton's backup, but when he became the starter this past season the output was limited at best with 20 solo tackles and one forced fumble.

Some believe McLendon, just behind Ziggy Hood among the strongest Steelers, would be better served as an end. According to both players, the two switching positions has never been discussed by the coaching staff. Whatever happens to the Steelers' defensive line, decisions have to be made at nose tackle, as well as the end positions.

McLendon's backup last year, Al Woods, is an unrestricted free agent. He's been in the league since 2010 and has spent the past two-plus seasons with the Steelers after time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie and Seattle Seahawks in 2011. He played in two games for Seattle before the Steelers claimed him off its practice squad and put him on theirs.

Woods played in 28 games the past two seasons with the Steelers and even started two games last year with eight solo tackles, two sacks and two pass breakups. Woods also can play end, which makes him a valuable player for the Steelers. He likely will be re-signed at a minimal salary, which is a good thing.

The other nose tackle on the roster is Hebron "Lonnie" Fangupo, an undrafted player in 2012 who originally signed with the Seattle Seahawks. He played in four games last year and had just one assisted tackle, but the Steelers like him a lot. He has two years remaining on the contract he signed after the Steelers claimed him from Seattle in 2012. He is scheduled to make $495,000 this year and $585,000 in 2015. He will be a free agent in 2016.