Categorized | Article, News

Defensive Turnover Includes Steve McLendon Taking Over For Casey Hampton In 2013


By Matthew Marczi

After over a decade of watching Casey Hampton anchor the defensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers (with the exception of a long stretch during the 2004 season when Chris Hoke filled in due to injury), it is an unusual feeling picturing the team’s defense without that comically large helmet spearheading the troops.

That is the situation in which the Steelers find themselves, however, in 2013, turning now to Steve McLendon, a former undrafted player, to man the nose tackle position.

Of course, this was a decision that the team made largely voluntarily, with financial considerations also playing a factor. In fact, defensive line coach John Mitchell may very well be downright giddy about the idea of McLendon moving into the starting lineup.

If you will recall, nose tackle was seen as a critical need entering the 2012 NFL Draft such that some outlets suggested that the Steelers might even trade up to select Dontari Poe in the first round. They did, in fact, trade up; however, that trade came in the fourth round, and it was for nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu.

It was during the press conference for Ta’amu that Mitchell expressed his fondness for McLendon publicly, however, after taking one too many questions indicating that Ta’amu would be handed the successorship to the nose tackle position.

When asked if McLendon could fulfill the classic role of the nose tackle, he said, “everybody wants to discard McLendon, let me tell you this, hold your opinion until the season is over”. Asked later to clarify, he reiterated, “I\'m just saying keep your opinion until after the season, you make the decision”.

After this past draft, with the selection of defensive end Nicholas Williams in the seventh round, Mitchell spoke about McLendon again, referencing his remarks from the previous year. Asked if he was happy with the nose tackle position, he said, “I remember sitting here last year. You guys had a coronation for Alameda Ta’amu. I told you if you look we had a guy who wore number 90 who was going to have a chance to play. I remember that. So I’m very happy with him”.

Of course, McLendon only played about a quarter of Hampton’s snaps last year. He will be asked to play perhaps even more than Hampton did a season ago, given the relative inexperience behind him with Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo.

Most importantly, though, McLendon made sure to get the most out of his snaps. He recorded six pressures, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in his brief and sporadic playing time a season ago, and he will be looking to continue to build on these impactful numbers to make a name for himself and secure his reputation beyond Hampton’s looming shadow.

McLendon will never be as strong as Hampton. He will never be able to command double and triple teams the way that Hampton did at his peak. It will be a tall task to even ask him to play the run as well as he did, such as when he helped the Steelers have one of the best rushing defenses of all time in 2010.

But in exchange for some of these more prototypical staples of the 3-4 nose tackle, McLendon hopes to bring some more of the Jay Ratliff school of thought, a smaller, quicker body type that can penetrate and stay on the field in passing situations.

Given the lack of productivity of late from the outside linebacker position, it very well may be the case that we see more of McLendon on the field on third downs. And with his mentor Chris Hoke interning at training camp this year, he should be able to come into the regular season prepared to hit the ground running.

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About Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Jason Brant

    I’m incredibly excited to see what McLendon can do with a full season on the field.

  • VaDave

    Actually, after all of the injuries we had last year, I’d be excited if anybody played a full season on the field…
    Seriously, I’m pretty pumped with McClendon taking over NG too. No, he’s not the prototypical NG, but one thing we lacked last year was heat in the kitchen. If we can get 3-4 sacks out of McClendon, especially early on, it’s going to change how teams block us and should open up opportunities for Worlids and Woodley to make plays in the backfield.

  • TJimmy

    I will miss Big Snack but now we have Big Mac to take up the slack.

  • steeltown

    Agreed

  • steeltown

    He wont command double teams in the same sense that Hampton did yes, but he’ll still command them. I truly believe OLines will have trouble with him, he is strong and he is very fast for a 3-4 DLineman, the proof is in the pudding, the guy gets pressure no doubt about it.. and Teams will have to account for that

  • Christopher Wilkes

    What excites me the most is how the defense will now be able to handle the no huddle. Sure, McLendon won’t be the run stuffer that Hampton was, so we’ll see how that impacts our MLBs and our rushing defense, but I couldn’t stand seeing Hampton being forced to play on obvious passing downs because of the no huddle offenses we faced. At least now we’ll have someone that can force pressure on those plays instead of just taking up space.

  • SteelSpine

    Amen, couldn’t have said it any better. What McClendon adds is he showed in his limited opportunities that he wreaks havoc in the backfield. Bull in the china closet. Ahhh finally I/we get to see what I’ve been wanting to see which is Mac getting a chance to do that as a starter or at-least find-out if he can do that longer term.

  • SteelSpine

    Great catch (I hadn’t seen that written anywhere yet).

  • Paul

    The big question with McLendon is he able to improve his less than stellar run stopping ability

  • marcus

    I wonder if we are making the same mistake this year with all the focus on Jarvis Jones at OLB, but maybe the next king of the defense is already in house.. Worilds has an opportunity to show what he is made of, and Adrian Robinson played really well last pre season. I’ve also heard that they are trying to hide UFA Alan Baxter a converted DE to OLB.

    I’m not sure that drafting Jarvis Jones has more to do with a lack of confidence in Woodley not Worilds.

    Sharmarko Thomas also feels like a great pick, but we keep hearing Robert Golden continues to impress..

    That’s whats great about Football. I love when a player comes from nowhere to become a star.

  • Milliken Steeler

    Great Points Matt. I do think he will command double teams though. He penetrates, he’s quick and he is strong also. This guy is every bit of 320 lbs and not the 280 some people are still listing him at.

    With him and what I believe everyone is missing and that’s Heyward getting more playing time, I have a feeling our D line is going to get a better push this year. Throw in Mr Jones on some blitz packages….While it has been slow. Ziggy’s stats have improved every year he has played. If he improves a little more or even a lot as he continues to work on things…..we could really be surprising up front.

    Our secondary was very effective with relatively no help pressure wise from up front. How good can we be with returned pressure from our front seven and and a healthy troy p and possible ball hawk in Cortez Allen? The shark, is going to find playing time and Gay will help us in certain situations. Arizona was happy with Gays play last year, they just like their young talent better.

    Im not just a fan, I really pay attention to what our team does. I think we have some sneaky good additions to this team and in my humble opinion our udfa’s? Outstanding this year.

    If we stay relatively healthy, our “old team” is going to smack some doubters in the mouth this year.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I am not concerned at ALL about his ability to demand double teams. Most of us know that in blitz pickup type drills, they guy the RB has to take is the guy who has the most direct shot at the QB. If McLendon can get penetration there, it is going to open up lanes for everyone else. Personally, I think that has hurt our OLBs the last few years. Hampton had no push any more and had gotten to the point where the C was able to handle him, not from a power perspective so much as Hampton had lost quickness off the line. He couldn’t get off the line fast enough to get to the QB. That is now different. I like the changes this D is making, replacing aging guys with some youth with promise.

  • Madi

    He’s shown to be very good at that. Not as good as Big Snack in his prime (who IS that good?) but at least as good as Big Snack lately. He does it with a different style than Casey did, but I don’t care as long as he gets it done. And I’m sure he’ll be better this year than ever before.

  • colingrant

    I’m not sure the Steelers scheme calls for the nose tackle to penetrate. Even though McLendon has displayed an athleticism that Snack was incapable of, the question remains whether McLendon’s attributes will complement the Steelers defensive line scheme. Time will tell.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Ditto…key words, as a starter…longer term.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Good point Chris…once teams saw Brett and Casey in the game, damn near all of them went no-huddle almost immediately it seemed.

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