Steelers Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell Says Don\’t Discard Steve McLendon

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.

  • zbluez1

    I suspect McLendon will fill the role that Hoke had prior to his retirement and be the situational rotational relief for some time to come unless the Steelers draft another nose tackle next year when the draft pool is expected to be much deeper than it was this year.

  • Intropy

    Mitchell is right to say that. McLendon was actually pretty good last season. But the reporter’s question was also appropriate. McLendon as atypical as a nose tackle. He’s less a stuffer and clogger and more a penetrator like a 4-3 DT. I think Ta’amu look like he’ll be a very good player, and I suspect he eventually becomes the starter, but I won’t rule out McLendon winning out. Either way the other should become a solid backup. One thought I had was that McLendon didn’t play up to Keisel’s level, but played better than Ziggy Hood, and an undersized nose tackle is right in the range of a 3-4 DE. If Ta’amu gets the start, McLendon may very well battle Hood for a starting DE spot.

  • SteelSpine

    Good ideas. I think McLendon’s chances at NT over Taamu (the Shamu) are helped by what Steelers linemen have always said which is it takes long time to learn NT in LeBeau’s defense (I dunno why that takes years to learn NT but thats what they’ve routinely said). At DE we have about nothing for backups, & McLendon’s size appears suited to DE in 3-4 defenses, so good idea to let him compete for DE. I’m not trashing Hood (or Hayward) & I’m not saying McLendon offers any pass rush threat, but it was a huge dropoff when Keisel got hurt.

  • Paul

    I hear people referring to Taamu as another Casey Hampton, well lets hope he is the Hampton of 5 years ago. Can’t see wasting another pick on a NT next year when McLendon is doing the job. Time for Hood to finally get to his game. Heyward should be fine but OSU players have a tendency to stink it up when they turn pro.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I expect us to carry 7 Dlineman this year, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if part of the Hampton agreement was that if was going to be cut due to inability to perform, he would instead be placed on the IR. He gets his money for ZERO work. If he is able to play, than all the better and we carry the 7 guys for the line. They also could move McLendon to DE to play behind Hood with Heyward behind Keisel meaning we only carry 6.

  • I think McLendon long term becomes a DE for us backing up Hood and Heyward. Ta’amu will start his second year and look for us to pick up another DT in about round three or four next season who will be his long term backup. I would expect said future drafted DT will be just that, undersized and more of a pure DT than a NT but flexible enough to also back up at DE.


    I also have always wondered why they say it takes a year to learn the NT position. Most people make it through Law School in 2-3 years. One would think Foote would just get him aligned properly and tell him “hit anything in front of you or anything that comes at you.” I know I am over simplifying it, but I think the time period has more to do with serving your ‘apprenticeship’ for maturity purposes in the LeBeau system.

  • Jprankster2005

    I guarntee that Hampton won’t be back this yr…… If they say it takes a yr. for that kind of injury for someone like Mendenhall to come back then it will take longer for a older and way bigger guy……. If they don’t plan on him being back after this yr. they should of released him….. I mean unless u want to pay 2.8 million for a coach pretty much…… If I had it my way…. Hampton and Scott would of been gone 2 months ago and along with Mendenhall who got a roster bonus…… We don’t need a RB with alot of experince we got Dwyer, Redman and Batch and now rainey…… They could of saved in the neighborhood of 6.5 million on those 3…. Because I don’t believe Mendenhall will be back next yr. and Def. Hampton won’t and Scott should of been the first cut…….. I love these guys but not worth the money…… U can do alot more with that money……. Mclendon will do a great job and Ta’amu will get his feet wet…. Redman is going to have a big yr. and if Dwyer Batch are healthy one of them will contribute alot as well……. Rainey could be a big name as well this yr. with all he can do and the speed…. I hope they release Scott soon and Hampton before the season if they don’t think he can play atleast half the season……..Mendenhall already got a roster bonus so he wont make alot more so they will end up keeping him……. I’m curious to see who steps up in these positions and makes a big leap and return as starters next yr……. I gotta also say I would of liked the steelers to try and cut a little of Foote salary maybe down from 3 mill to 1.8 to 2 million I think they could of got away with it…….But who am I…….. I just think I’ll end up being right…….

  • SteelersDepot

    Um, Hampton WILL be on the roster this year, baring some sort of set back. Colbert described why it takes running backs longer to recover because all of the cutting and such. He also described the Hampton situation as well.

  • McLendon is the D-lines version of Trai Essex, in that he can back up any position on the D-line.

    I expect to see Ta’amu and McLendon share time at NT. Ta’amu will play NT in the base defense, with McLendon lining up in nickle and dime packages.

  • zbluez1

    Back in the late 1970’s when sauropods roamed the earth and only professional athletes got procedures done with a scope ( was kinda new then ) there would be a good chance Hampton would not be back this year ( I know I had surgery to repair a torn ACL and Meniscus back in 1976 the old way, screws and all ) but in modern times the biggest rehab on a knee procedure is getting back full lateral movement, the ability to plant and cut at speed, something that most nose tackles don’t have to, kind of has to do with the position played, so unlike Mendy who makes his living by planting his foot in the turf and changing directions while running at full speed Big Snack doesn’t have to do that which is why he is expected to be back from surgery for the same issue much earlier. Hampton’s rehab will consist of building up the musculature around the repaired ACL, lots and lots of single leg lifts with weights, then squats and so forth, until the leg is stable, tight, has no lateral play in it and has the push strength he needs to play his position. As of last report ” Casey looks like Casey” and so forth, he is back to doing squats, lateral slides, leg presses and such rehab that is needed for him to be able to “play up to NFL speed” as of late September by all accounts, right now he is still doing gross strength rehab, it is forecasted that by late July/early August he will start into trying to get up to “NFL speed” with targeted musculature rehab to get back his burst at the snap and so on. Hampton will be back this year, Mendy “could” be back this year, late about mid October, but that depends on how hard he works on his rehab. I know all of Steeler Nation would love to have more cap room to get Wallace under contract long term, Get AB under contract long term, and even get some of the younger guys on the field more, we all have our favs and dark-horses that “if they only got a shot” but Vets who can still play and have millions invested in them don’t get cut willy nilly just because we the fans think they should be, that is where coaches and front office folks come in. Hampton already took a pay cut to play this year, most of it upfront so he has his money, cutting him won’t save much if any at all, Mendy is in the last year of his deal and if he wants to get “PAID” he has to get back on the field and show he is healthy, but you plan for the Superbowl run and that starts in late February, Hampton is in those plans, maybe Mendy too, but regardless you don’t cut injured players because then you have to pay them an injury settlement and those count against the “CAP” too! I believe J. Scott and even C. Scott will get beat out in camp and be asked to move along, so that money will be recouped. Foote’s salary won’t get cut unless he gets cut entirely and that would mean that Sly ( Sylvester Stevenson ) and Morty Ivy really show they can both make the calls, and play lights out in camp, Lebeau doesn’t tolerate mental alignment or coverage call mistakes very well which is why he prefers Veteran backers make the calls, regardless Steeler Nation as a whole will see how it plays out in camp. I suggest you hold off wielding the Turks ax with myopic vision just a little while and let the guys get to camp, see how the rookies ( drafted and undrafted ) develop, how well the yr 2-4 guys can execute it on the field, then you can swing it around some, k?

  • Broderick Wallace

    Well… If you’ve ever been to law school or worked in an attorney’s office you would know that law school doesn’t teach you how to be an attorney in the real world.

    Taking on two blockers is no easy feat and depending on the play and what the offense is doing dictates what angles and gaps the NT must attack. They call Lebeau’s defense complex for a reason. Everyone has a learning curve of varying degrees depending on the player, not position. I was shocked that Cortez was playing in sub-packages last year and did very well for a rookie.


    So the NT needs a year to learn his position, but the QB requires only 3 months to master a new system?

  • Ron

    When has it only taken 3 months to master QB?

  • SteelSpine

    Haheh, good points Jamesh (in both your posts)!

  • Dave

    Casy Hampton started 13 games as a rookie, so it’s not totally impossible for a rookie to start…that said, I agree that the opening day starter will be either Hampton (if he’s ready) or McLendon. I would expect to see Ta’amu active and maybe in rotation later in the year.