The Pittsburgh Steelers have a player in Daniel McCullers whom is about to enter his third year in the NFL as the team's only remaining defensive tackle from the previous season going into the upcoming NFL Draft. An injury plagued 2015 season gave "Big Dan" little time to showcase what he has to offer in his second season with the team. Going into his third-year, and potentially his biggest opportunity, with the Steelers organization, McCullers hopes to provide solid play at the nose tackle position, since his former teammate Steve McLendon left for the New York Jets during free agency.
This article will mainly focus on McCullers' positive attributes as well as the aspects to his game which still need to be improved.
vs. Center Jeremy Zuttah in AFC Wild Card (2014)
During the AFC Wild Card matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, McCullers made a play with his biggest asset: his sheer size and strength. McCullers controlled center Jeremy Zuttah as he flowed with the play and was quickly able to disengage with Zuttah in order to make the tackle.. His play forces running back Justin Forsett to be swallowed up by the interior of the Steelers' defense. McCullers proceeds to get off of his block and assists with the tackle for a small gain.
When going up against opponents, McCullers can be disruptive simply because of his humongous size and natural strength. His problem comes at the fundamental level, as he is inconsistent at getting underneath his opponents' pad level and using his hands to engage and disengage with blockers.
Keeps head up looking for the ball
While Dan McCullers was forced inside by the Bengals center, he quickly got off of his block and tackled running back Jeremy Hill in the open field. The Bengals had receiver Mohamed Sanu blocking upfield and if McCullers didn't provide the open field tackle, Hill could have turned it upfield for a big gain or even a touchdown. We will take a small gain of 5 yards rather than a huge splash play.
Worthy of note on this play is how McCullers quickly stands up from his stance and is not changing the line of scrimmage at the beginning of this play. Though he initially must deal with two linemen, a stronger and more controlled approach to the guard may end up with the play getting absolutely no gain. However McCullers does do a solid job of keeping his head up and recognizing the play, making a significant tackle that prevented Jeremy Hill from running to daylight.
McCullers is by no means an elite nose tackle at this point in his career. He needs to work on his mechanics and the next play truly shows what he struggles with the most.
Getting off the block
This play was not a good example of what he should do at the nose tackle position. As previously mentioned, a problem with McCullers is he doesn't use his hands enough to fight off players. This play could have been prevented or even adjusted if he used his hands to battle off of the Jets center. Notice how he does get a good drive on the center but he allows himself to be taken out of the play. These problems can all be adjusted and fixed with the help of the Steelers' defensive line coach John Mitchell.
This play specifically shows that McCullers gets manipulated by center Nick Mangold and can't get off the block resulting in a large run by Chris Ivory. If he had used better mechanics, this play could of been stopped for a loss instead of a gain of 8 yards.
McCullers must improve for 2016
While the Steelers could still add a defensive tackle in free agency or a top prospect in the draft to the position, McCullers needs to look at this season as his best opportunity to prove how effective he can be in this defense. He should be spending this offseason continuing to work at getting stronger and developing better fundamentals to control opponents at the line of scrimmage.
While Pittsburgh looks to be moving away from the use of a pure nose tackle for the large majority of its plays, the interior defensive linemen are still an important part of the roster which needs talent and dominating players to disrupt the ground game of opponents, occupy multiple blockers to free up linebackers and control the center each play. McCullers was picked as a project player who came into the team with everyone knowing he needed to work on his fundamentals, but also knowing that if he gets to the point where he masters his craft, he could become a major problem for anyone to face.