The Pittsburgh Steelers rarely have rookies starting on defense unless that’s predicated by injury of another veteran starter. The Steelers could have as many as three rookies starting within the first few weeks of the season (OLB Ryan Shazier and DL Stephon Tuitt being two), which is a little mind blowing to think of. One of those potential starters is rookie NT Daniel McCullers.
Ever since Casey Hampton’s departure during the offseason before the 2013 season got underway, the Steelers defensive line has felt the lacking presence of a really big man in the center of it all. It’s one of the reasons why the run defense suffered so much. A year later after that loss, and the defense looks like it may have found the replacement of “Big Snack” with “Big Dan.”
Daniel McCullers is a 6’7″ 350lb beast out of Tennessee. The 2014 6th round draft pick (215 overall) seemed more like a developmental project the Steelers were willing to invest in for a couple of years before releasing this monster of a man. He’s huge, strong, and has a raw ability of pushing people around. But those kind of attributes don’t necessarily translate immediately into an NFL starting nose tackle. But for McCullers, he’s already showing he’s the real deal.
From notes around our media friends attending camp, they all have pretty much the same thing to say – McCullers is a beast and is asserting himself very early on in camp.
"Daniel McCullers is a monster of a man, and he showed that he can play some football as well. McCullers was active all day on Wednesday whether it was pushing Cody Wallace into the backfield during linemen pass blocking drills or swallowing Dri Archer during the 11-on-11 live tackling period. Now, McCullers looks like he needs to get a little more sense of urgency with his play, but that will come. He is a quiet kid who is just trying to fit in during the early days of camp."
Pushing around Cody Wallace, who filled in admirably at center during the mid-season turnaround was no match for McCullers. Even Dri Archer, who looks like David to this Golaith, was swallowed hole once McCullers got his arms around him – meaning that he’s not just a battering ram, but has the ability and hand/arm strength to wrap up a running back who has forward momentum.
McCullers is mainly working with the second team, and I would love to hear reports of him lining up against Pouncey and bull rushing him flat on his keister. (Maybe the Steelers want to avoid this so no one can criticize Pouncey) I’d love to hear him busting through the line only to stop short within mere inches of sending QB Ben Roethlisberger into next week with what would have been a huge hit. Or that RB Le’Veon Bell looked to have a big hole in the line for a decent gain only to have a large trunk of an arm from McCullers swing out from a block and stop Bell in his tracks for no gain.
Getting excited yet?
Assuming McCullers gets through the preseason unscathed by injury, I don’t see him starting in Week 1. I think the team will ease him into starting – increasing his snaps on running downs in the first few weeks. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think this kid could start by Week 3 or 4.
If that could happen, look out, opposing team’s running games. You’re about meet up with Hampton 2.0 – bigger and stronger – and you’ll get up close and personal with “Big Dan.”