One thing I particularly love about the draft is that I get to hear from the each Pittsburgh Steelers position coach that will be responsible for coaching each draft pick after that selection is made. It is really the only time of the year the fan base gets to hear from the likes of Keith Butler, Sean Kugler, Scottie Montgomery or John Mitchell, just to name a few.
Following the selection of Washington nose tackle Alemeda Ta\’amu, Mitchell met the media to talk about the newest Steeler. During the press conference Mitchell was talking about how Ta\’amu was a classic nose tackle and he was then asked if Steve McLendon wasn\’t considered a classic nose tackle based on description he gave of the Steelers fourth round draft pick. Mitchell sternly replied to the question, “Everybody wants to discard McLendon, let me tell you this, hold your opinion until the season is over.” That was later followed up with another question about McLendon based on the first answer Mitchell gave, to which he replied, “I\’m just saying keep your opinion until after the season, you make the decision.”
You could really tell in voice of Mitchell that he has complete confidence in McLendon and it certainly sounded like the Troy product will have a bigger role in the Steelers defense this year. With the status of long time starter Casey Hampton currently up in the air as he continues to recover from surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered in the AFC Wild Card game against the Denver Broncos, McLendon very well could be the week one starter when the Steelers take the field in Denver this year.
The knock you hear the most about McLendon is that he is undersized. He is listed on the Steelers website as weighing 280 pounds, but Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider has dispelled that notion several times over the course of the offseason, and has noted that McLendon weighs more than 300 pounds.
McLendon played just under 225 snaps last season including the playoffs and held his own doing so. In addition to playing over the nose, he also played a little 3 and 4 technique in nickel sub packages and also took an occasional snap at defensive end as part of the rotation on long drives sustained by the defense. He has now been part of the team long enough now that his head his no longer swimming and he reacts instead of having to think first. In 2011 he recorded 16 total tackles to go along with a sack and 3 quarterback pressures.
While the Steelers certainly drafted Ta\’amu to be the long term successor to Hampton, his development will not happen over night. Not only will the rookie need to get his weight and conditioning under control, he will also have to learn the nuances of the Dick LeBeau defense. Assuming Hampton is ready to go by the start of the season, both he and McLendon will almost certainly get most of the work at nose tackle this year. With Chris Hoke now retired, McLendon will likely assume the role he played whenever Hampton is ready to play. Should Hampton need to start the season on the PUP list, you can bet McLendon will be the starter in the base defense.
McLendon is well aware by now that the Steelers think they drafted their future nose tackle and that will motivate him even more this season. If Mitchell says that we shouldn\’t discard the 2009 undrafted free agent and that we should with hold judgment on him until after the 2012 season, that is good enough for me. Even when Ta\’amu is ready to assume the starting role most likely in 2013, McLendon will likely be the next man up. It seems that the Steelers have no plans to discard him any time soon.