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Steelers NT Steve McLendon Is \”Running\” Into His First Season As A Starter

During a recent Q & A session with fans on steelers.com, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon was asked to compare himself to his predecessor Casey Hampton, and the former undrafted free agent gave a fair assessment of himself in his answer.

“The only thing that is similar is power and strength,” replied McLendon. “What makes us different is he is heavier than I am. He can hold double teams better than I can. But I feel like I am quicker, but his reaction is better. The height is different and he is smarter at the game than I am. But I am trying to accomplish everything he did.”

Being behind Hampton on the depth chart last season resulted in McLendon only playing 139 snaps. Now that he\’s the starter, he will get at least four times that amount in 2013 and perhaps even more.

McLendon has been known as a workout warrior for quite some time now, but this offseason, he trained even harder and that included him running a lot.

“I went back to my original training routine,” McLendon said Sunday. “I ran a lot. I made sure I was going to be in shape. That was my biggest thing, my biggest concern was just make sure I\’m in extremely great shape. I lifted. I ran. I did drills – most of all, just being able to run, being able to condition, because coach Tomlin says all the time, “highly conditioned athletes will be able to play better.”

While McLendon might not be able to two-gap against the run like Hampton could, the Steelers defense didn\’t suffer when he was on the field last year. In fact, when he was on the field in 2012, the opposition rushed for 3.43 yards per carry as opposed to 3.56 when he was on the sidelines.

McLendon\’s quickness will hopefully show this season when rushing the passer. In the 73 plays that he rushed the passer in 2012, he recorded two sacks to go along with two hurries and two quarterback hits. It\’s unfair to use those stats, however, as a means of measurement because often times a nose tackle will stunt or slant to the B-gap in order to provide rushing lanes for a looping defensive end or a blitzing linebacker.

As a team, the Steelers recorded 37 sacks in 2012, and McLendon was on the field in either the base or the nickel defense for 9 of them. When Hampton was on the field, the defense registered 14 sacks with McLendon being on the field for one of those. When you consider that Hampton played 364 more snaps than McLendon did last year, you can see why the decision was made not to bring back Hampton.

McLendon has said he wants to play all three downs in 2013 if the coaches let him and while that\’s not likely to happen, his conditioning level should allow him to play more in the nickel on long drives when a defensive end needs a breather. When the Steelers are in the nickel, McLendon will more times than not be allowed to use that quickness of his to rush the passer, or should I say, run after the passer.

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