The Steelers report to training camp on July 25th. As we rapidly approach the start of the 2016 season, there are a number of position battles that will take place on the practice fields of St. Vincent College. The first of five to be previewed is the Nose Tackle position:
Daniel McCullers vs. Javon Hargrave
With the loss of starter Steve McLendon through free agency, the Steelers now have a gaping hole at Nose Tackle. While the position is no longer the keystone of the 3-4 defense, given the emergence of more spread offenses, it’s still a key component for stopping the run and providing a push up the middle.
“Big Dan” McCullers would appear to have an early edge over Hargrave in this battle, thanks largely (no pun intended) to his experience. McCullers enters his third year in the league, and he also would appear to have the support of the Steelers front office and coaches.
In a recent article from Steelers.com, General Manager Kevin Colbert praised McCullers: “Dan has shown when he has played, he’s really been productive…On production per snap, the basics, his production is pretty good. So, can he continue to develop and help us, we think so.”
Last season, the 6’7” 352 pound McCullers played a total of 105 defensive snaps, only 9.47% of the entire total snaps. He finished with 8 tackles and .5 sacks. He’ll need to take a huge step forward this training camp and prove that he’s not just a “one-trick pony,” simply using his sheer strength to push centers backwards.
Dan has shown when he has played, he’s really been productive…On production per snap, the basics, his production is pretty good. So, can he continue to develop and help us, we think so.
Defensive Line Coach, John Mitchell, would also appear to be behind McCullers, however, stating that the big man “really understands what it takes to play in this league better than he ever has before…I’m very pleased with where he’s at.”
Meanwhile, Javon Hargrave just signed his rookie contract and enters his first season as a highly touted 3rd round selection from South Carolina State.
The 6’1” 309 frame is more comparable to Casey Hampton and would indicate that Hargrave is better adept at getting underneath offensive lineman and using his leverage to beat them inside. The scouting report on Hargrave coming out of college labels him as the “most explosive interior athlete in the class.”
He’s also an incredibly talented pass rusher, an unusual skill for a nose tackle. He finished the 2015 season with 13.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits to go along with his 59 tackles (22 for loss) Those are monster numbers; however, his competition was against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams, a far cry from the SEC or the Big Ten, so it’s still to be determined whether Hargrave can matchup against the NFL’s elite lineman.
Edge Goes To: Hargrave
While McCullers has the size, strength, and experience to become the starter at the nose tackle position, Hargrave has the explosive talent and would appear to be the more versatile of the two players.
McCullers has yet to prove that he can move up and down the line with effectiveness, and his massive frame may actually work to his detriment. With the lack of depth on on the Steelers defensive line, it’s more than likely that both players will see considerable playing time.
Still, look for Hargrave to emerge as the more productive and more valuable commodity as the season progresses, mostly due to his pass rushing ability.