By Jeremy Hritz
There was no shortage of buzz surrounding nose tackle Steve McLendon during the first week of organized team activities. McLendon, who was named the MVP in three different sports during his senior year at Carroll High School in Ozark, Alabama, showed up with a little something extra.
45 of ‘em to be exact.
The 6’4 McLendon, who was listed on the Steelers website a bit on the light side for the nose tackle position last year at 280, arrived at a reported 325 pounds. It was rumored that he weighed over 300 pounds at the end of last season, but now we have verification. However, his mass is more jacked than jiggle. While not a prototypical nose tackle with his height, McLendon’s position coach John Mitchell has confidence in his ability to man the position. After the draft, Mitchell said about McLendon, “Everybody wants to discard McLendon. Let me tell you this, hold your opinion until the season is over.” Now whether or not Mitchell said this to motivate McLendon because he believes in his abilities, or whether he said it to temper the blow of the drafting of Alameda Ta’amu, nobody knows. However, McLendon will most likely begin the season as the starting nose tackle by default as a result of Casey Hampton’s ACL injury, barring a highly-unlikely phenomenal showing in training camp by Ta’amu.
McLendon finds himself staring at a once in a lifetime opportunity: the chance to start for the most prestigious defense on one of the league’s most prestigious teams, and possibly the chance to make his coach look like a genius by proving that he has what it takes to relegate Hampton to a backup.
Not bad for a guy who went undrafted out of Troy University.
McLendon was signed as a free agent by the Steelers in 2009 and spent the part of the season on the practice squad. In 2010, McLendon saw some action on the defensive line and on special teams, recording two tackles and one fumble recovery against Tennessee. He was also released and resigned three times during the year.
This past season, McLendon made noticeable contributions to the team on defense, starting against the Arizona Cardinals due to a Hampton injury, racking up five tackles and one quarterback hurry. In a season that the Steelers defense uncharacteristically struggled against the run, McLendon’s starting role against the Cardinals helped limit them to only 73 yards rushing. He finished the 2011 season with 13 total tackles and one sack.
It speaks volumes about McLendon that his coaches felt confident enough to start him in only his third year, being that he was an undrafted player. The Steelers are hoping that in his fourth season, McLendon can continue his development and be an impact player to help the run defense regain its edge. The Steelers have scored on undrafted players before, and they may be on the verge of boasting another if McLendon can make the most of his opportunity.