On Steve McLendon: Right Man For The Job Versus Right Job For The Man

It would be hard to argue that there’s a better candidate on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster right now to play nose tackle than Steve McLendon. After all, that is why the team signed him to a three-year contract last offseason.

And when all was said and done, the run statistics suggest that by and large, McLendon held his own when he was on the field. He may not have done everything the traditional 350-pound nose tackle method, but he got the job done.

I don’t believe the issue is necessarily whether or not McLendon the individual is capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of the nose tackle in this defense. To me, he’s already shown that he can handle it, with a bit of an advantage or disadvantage here and there depending on the situation based on his body type.

The real issue is not whether he’s the right man for the job. The issue is whether it’s the right job for the man.

Even though there’s, let’s say mixed agreement, on whether or not McLendon can handle playing nose tackle on a full-time basis based on last year’s body of work, I think it’s clear to most that the former undrafted free agent would in all likelihood be most successful playing the defensive end position.

That is, after all, where he started out in this league when the Steelers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2009. And that is where he played for his first few seasons, but he was forced to play nose tackle at times, most notably in 2011 when injuries to both Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke forced him to play significant snaps against the Arizona Cardinals and then start against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

McLendon doesn’t have the frame that forces offenses to regularly double team him with two offensive linemen, which is what Dick LeBeau likes his nose tackles to do. But what other option do the Steelers have?

The team’s backup nose tackle, Al Woods, is also primarily a 3-4 defensive end. The redshirt nose tackle Hebron Fangupo appears to be so far from being ready for John Mitchell that he seems closer to retirement than starting.

So unless the Steelers significantly address the nose tackle position this offseason, either through free agency (which is probably unlikely) or through the draft (which is certainly a possibility), it does appear as though McLendon will be forced to continue to grind out an existence at nose tackle, where he is not best suited.

Though he showed that he has the ability to add some bulk, even now McLendon is not a very physically imposing force in the middle of the defense, and that is why he rarely draws double teams. For an undersized nose tackle, it is even more important to demonstrate to the offense that they have to double team you, and he has not done that.

Taking that pressure off of McLendon by moving him to end opposite Cameron Heyward could very well be in his best interests. And if they can find a nose tackle, it might be in the team’s best interests as well, as McLendon could arguably be the best at the position on the team behind Heyward.

Granted, that theory is largely untested, given that he’s never actually even started a game at defensive end, even though he was able to be highly effective in his minimal playing time prior to starting at nose tackle this season. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, as when Willie Colon was finally moved to guard in 2012.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • treeher

    I’ve suggested this before in other blogs and I think it would work, although I’m not proposing that Steelers take a NT until the later rounds.

  • steeltown

    I have to say, though I think McL played well at NT this past season I too think kicking him out to play DE opposite Heyward could be potentially dangerous for opposing QBs and running backs… Im not against drafting NT but in no way do I think it should happen in the early Rds, a guys like Ryan Carrethers in the 5th would be welcomed

  • steeltown


  • bonairsfavoriteson

    As long as John Mitchell keeps thinking he can turn chicken s–t into chicken salad with guys like Fangupo, our dl will need guys that are suited to a position they play best, rather than keep trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and why are we still screwing around with a guy Fangupo, that is nearly 30 years old and never seen the field, seems our staff has become the poster boy at certain positions for stupidity.

  • Rob

    I’d rather see what happens if we can manage a heyward and hagemen de combination, with mc as their primary backup. Draft a nose late. I think in a year our d-line would be great and our backers amazing again

  • And you believe a guy like that would start day 1? And McL would be able to move back to DE next season, or is this a plan to move him back in 2-3yrs? I’m just asking bc I only see one NT in the draft that has the ABILITY to start his rookie season in the NFL and I know people don’t want to hear it but that’s Nix…I am not suggesting him at 15 bc I would rather address CB in the first rd unless both Gilbert and Dennard are gone but I would be all for this plan if somehow Nix slipped to the 2nd or if they traded back and got more picks before grabbing him. I have to also say it worries me that Nix didn’t bench at the combine.

  • Callentown

    Man, I’ve been saying this for a year now and every time I get hammered by a number of people.

    ‘Always starts out saying how Mac played the run great last year – in no way a problem’ – which simply values one set of stats over others.

    But, then we hear about LeBeau and how his defense is DESIGNED for the NT to take on two blockers, which Mac has not done and will not ever do. That’s just not who he is.

    He could not get pressure up the middle last year and asking him to play out of position not only hurts his cause but the cause of the defensive line and the defense as it is schemed.

    It is not up to any of us to figure out how to fix this, but the team should be looking for a way to fix so the defense can run the way it is designed. Again, Mac would be a terror on DE with his size.

    If he stays at NT for another year, the defense will again struggle for another year trying to ‘cover’ for that weakness in the scheme.

  • Callentown

    I haven’t seen Nix play but I’m curious as to why the top NFL experts rate him as the top DL in the draft and grade him out as approximately the 10th highest player with a 91/92 rating, but the fans on this site all agree he’s a bust and should not be drafted by the Steelers.

    What gives?

  • dkoy85

    Love this article. I’m a big fan of Mac but I want to see him play his natural position and shine. Any veteran NT out there with a couple solid CHEAP years left in the tank? That way we can draft a NT late in the draft and hopefully bring him along over the next couple years.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Thank You Matt!!! Although McLendon can come in and play NT in a pinch does not make him a starter there. I do not see a good NT in this draft nor in FA so we maybe stuck this coming year. I do not like Nix but it would make sense. Let both Keisel and Hood leave, move Mc to DE, Draft Nix and you have Woods, Fang and Mc who could come into a game in a pinch to back it up if need be.

  • Spencer Krick

    Still think if you let Ziggy walk, a line of McLendon, Woods and Heyward would be pretty mean.

  • steeltown

    No probably not this season, but possibly 2015 a quality 2nd yr prospect could come in on base Defense

    Im not against McL (and Woods) manning the position and im also not against drafting a NT prospect with an eye toward McL moving to DE… I just don’t think its necessary to spend the 15th overall pick on a position that is utilized only half of the time

  • Callentown

    And this from Yahoo Sports:

    DEFENSIVE LINE: The run defense was terrible. Only Cameron Heyward stood out among this group. Brett Keisel is done, Ziggy Hood is a UFA, nose tackle Steve McLendon is a bad fit.

  • grw1960

    What make you think Mclendon was/is undersized? He played at around 320 lbs last season and was not as easily cut blocked as Casey was his last two seasons.
    Also as Dave wrote about awhile back. almost all the big runs were outside the area of his responsibility.
    A better NT would be nice. But what they need right now is a better DE on the other side, opposite Heyward. Like Hageman .

  • PA2AK

    Yes there are some that think he’s a bust…I believe the majority think it’s a bad choice at 15 given the steelers current needs and the projected talent that will be available at 15. In all likelyhood, he will be a quality starter in the NFL, but we have people that can hold the fort at NT for a couple of years if need be. We DONT have that at other positions like CB and S

  • Milliken Steeler

    The film I have watched on him, he gets turned an awful lot for a number 15 pick. If he fell to the second round and we grabbed a good corner or OLB at 15, I wouldn’t be as negative about the pick.
    I just believe we are in worse shape in other areas on defense and Nix isn’t a cant miss NT at 15 in my opinion.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I agree. I can understand if people like him at DE better or feel that he didnt get enough push up the middle but undersized? He is 6’4″ and played at 320-330 I believe last season.

  • PA2AK

    I think it’s maybe reason 8 on a top ten list for why the defense struggled last year. I don’t know anyone that has said Mac is a world beater….just he’s a much lower priority than other problems because he can manage. Ike can’t….Clark can’t…

  • Callentown

    I believe I’ve heard Dave say he played just fine last season. There may be more to it than that though.

    Last year, going into the season without a backup for the ILB play caller for the team was a big mistake. Surprised we haven’t heard more about that to be honest.

    Corners have not come around enough and OLB has issues with Woodley and JJ. So I guess I’d put it at about #4 or 5.

  • SteelersDepot

    your bias is so thick. McLendon assault someone in your family?

  • Jason

    My question though is this. Did we only use a nose tackle half the time because of the fact that we didn’t have the front 7 like we did in the past (and thus the coaching staff trusted the secondary players more), or is it that there has been a switch in team philosophy on defense? The other thing I see people on here complaining about is that he is a two down player. My question is, if the man can help stop the run consistently (whether it’s through his own tackles, or eating up space for others to make the tackle), and force teams to constantly be in 2nd and 3rd and long, does it really matter if he comes off the field on third downs. I mean in my opinion if he helps keep teams in down and distance through the first two downs, he’s done his job of affecting third down, and helped to make a team more one dimensional for that play which still helps us.

  • 20Stoney

    I watch a good bit of Notre Dame, and I just don’t see it. He just doesn’t jump out at you. I think he’s just the best nose tackle in a weak class. We have so many needs, I can’t see going #1 on Nix. Now, like others have said, if he falls to you in the second round, maybe…

  • JohnB

    Well since it “takes a year to learn the defense,” I don’t mind Steve holding it down for another year, I love his game vs the zone blocking and if the Ravens are going to incorporate that kind of scheme, I see no problem with this. I agree with whats been said about waiting till later rounds for NT, no point if he’s not going to be on the field much.

  • 20Stoney

    It is something when 320 is considered undersized isn’t it? I can remember Lorenzo Freeman being 300 lbs and people thought he was enormous…

  • mem359

    McLendon is not Hampton at his prime, but he is cheaper and would be good value if he was the same or better than what Casey was his last two seasons.

  • Axe Skot

    I also would like to see some analysis that would clear up the use of the nose currently. The other thing that is often overlooked though is that when Aaron Smith was lined up next to Big Snack, Smith (who opponents often described as unblockable) also would get double teamed on occasion. I think it is a synergistic effect of recent turnover and the D-line could possibly be solidified without doing anything other than letting the existing players develop. Much has been said about the linebackers, and I’ll point out turnover there as well. I still believe that linebacker depth in general is much more of an issue than line depth. Timmons is the only guy I feel like is a strength going into next season. On the line, I feel good about Heyward and Mac, despite what his deficiencies as a nose might be. Even Hood, if he stays, or Kiesel, if he stays, don’t seem like glaring deficiences to me. But even still, that is 2/3 of the position that I feel are strengths. I can say the same about 1/4 of the linebackers, even if I like Jones’ and Williams’ potential, and whatever hope ther might be for Worilds, who hasn’t been an every down player for a full season, and Woodley who hasn’t either in a few seasons. People voted down when I said draft two outside linebackers, but I think we need them every bit as much as in the secondary. We had some pretty mediocre secondaries made above average due to an elite pass rush.

  • I would if we didn’t have other pressing needs or if I felt Nix was more dominant than I think he is at this time like Wilfork was or even poe a few yrs ago but like I said before as of right now I don’t feel that way….although I would rather have a CB I will say this, adding to our front 7 a guy that could take up double teams would help create more pressure which we need also.
    Either way I think we are agreeing 15 too high

  • And I would say this….2 down player, but if that 3rd down is 3rd and short he’s not coming off.

  • PA2AK

    And I agree with Dave when he says Mac played just fine…that’s not saying he is the second coming.

    I agree and think you hit it on the head (more of why most aren’t sold on going with Nix at 1.15)….we need to draft guys that will start as a rookie or 2nd year guy in both the CB and S position, and we need immediate depth at ILB, production out of the OLBs and also important is what we get depth wise/production from the WR, TE, & RB positions.

    To me, the DL and OL aren’t areas to neglect, but of the overall team needs I think those units are best suited to improve over last season with the current players. I may have over stated my ‘rankings’…but I think we both agree that, especially with NT, it isn’t the highest priority right now…by a long shot.

  • PA2AK

    I don’t watch much of ND…but from what I saw, I tend to agree with this. He’s not a Dontari Poe.

  • PA2AK

    or when Mean Joe was the biggest baddest dude out there…at a monstrous 275!

  • Luke Shabro

    Axe, I think you absolutely have to draft 2 OLBs in this draft. Even if it’s one in the second round and one in the seventh or one in the third and one in the sixth. You need to get the pipeline going. Pressure will mask deficencies in the secondary but I don’t feel that a strong secondary will necessarily bring about a lot more pressure, some maybe, but not significant enough to improve the defense and cause turnovers. Do I think if Justin Gilbert or HaHa Clinton-Dix is there at 15 we should draft them? Yes I absolutely do but part of that is due to the fact that I don’t think there will be pass rushers available at 15 that will be worth it. Clowney, Mack and Barr will all be gone by then and I don’t necessarily think Ealy is that guy.

  • Luke Shabro

    I was listening to the Draft Countdown podcast this morning thinking that could be a nice grouping especially in sub packages.

  • Steve

    Why all the talk about drafting a nose tackle? Mac did well last year. The majority of Big runs were to the outside and not up the middle. Nix does not impress and with bad knees he is damaged goods. Mac is our nose tackle and Wood is the backup. Our need is in the secondary.

  • Luke Shabro

    I’m looking at the UFA list and I’m no expert but I don’t see a guy on there that can come in and play the nose. I wish there was a guy but hopefully someone gets cut

  • steeltown

    We played sub packages so often because our secondary was playing poorly in a League that is ever changing. We needed an extra DB out there just to defend Offenses that not only have two quality TE’s that can run routes and catch but also have two quality WRs one of which usually has size all on the field at the same time,.. I don’t see this trend changing

    We need a solid NT in the 3-4, no doubt, but the League has changes since the early 2000’s when we took Hampton in the 1st Rd… I just don’t see the value this year when we have needs at other positions

  • Matt Manzo

    The way I see it is McClendon at nose tackle is an experiment. He showed some promise last season so it’s too early to abandon. I like the thought of a faster NT.
    I also think drafting Ellis later would be a good idea. Even if MClendon locks it down, a young DT would be nice for depth. Woods can still back up both DL positions.
    And why isn’t Beau Allen being mentioned? Didn’t he declare?

  • JohnB

    Its the draftniks suggesting such, not i.

  • Rob

    Where did you find this draft countdown podcast. I’d like to give it as listen myself

  • Callentown

    Guess I’m trying to figure out why outside of the Steeler world there is one suggestion about his fitting at NT and inside a totally different one.

  • Ben Anderson

    Unless you can get a NT prospect who has the flexibility to stay on the field for more than 2 downs and play in some sub packages, nabbing one early is not the way to go.

    But, there’s also this: “McLendon, according to Football Outsiders, made his average tackle following a gain of 3.0 yards, the worst of any starting nose tackle in a 3-4 defense last season.”

  • The Dude

    If we don’t have a 2-gap NT, a guy who consistently requires the center and one of the guards to block him in the middle the rest of the front 7 suffers. That allows a guard to get to the next level and at least chip if not seal off/block an LB. This allows for more running room in the middle, and makes the Steelers D play more conservative and “stay home” instead of the ability for the 4 LBs to just play the lanes the D line is providing.
    Mac is solid, and a good guy for playing out of position and really is doing a solid job for not really being a fit for the gig. But he is no Big Snack Hampton. Until we get another immovable object fire plug of a dude in the middle of that line the D will be less able to attack, more predictable, and have to react to the O instead of taking it to them.

  • PA2AK

    most people don’t think clearly when they are looking up to 6 rings shining down on their pitiful existences.

  • PA2AK

    anyone think with Mac in there, the Steelers could adjust from a predominately 2-gap system to a hybrid/1-gap 3-4 system. It’s a slight difference, but maybe they are already adjusting based on their personnel…

  • Matthew Marczi

    I say that because he doesn’t draw double teams the way a traditional nose tackle should, and when he does get double teamed he doesn’t handle them the way a traditional nose tackle should. This despite him supposedly being one of the strongest players on the team.

  • Bradys_Dad

    I’d love to see us grab Ryan Carrethers from Ark. State in RD 3 or 4 (assuming he’s still available). Look this guy up and see for yourself what a young typical Steelers nose would and should look and perform like. He has girth, strength, technique and he’ll command 2 OL better than 50% of the time. I hate the thought of losing Hood and think he gets a bad rap. Drafting Carrethers would give Mitchell all sorts of options.

  • grw1960

    Teams using zone , Stretch or cut back type rushing offenses seldom use double teams on Nose Tackles. Unless they are blocking pro bowlers like BJ , Wilfork or Nagata.
    In this part of the salary cap era, Teams with franchise QBs can’t afford to have pro bowl type players at every position. Sometimes they have to settle for just good enough like McLendon. They have to be choosey about what positions they to try to upgrade each year.
    I think the Steelers want to add to the DL group in this draft. I think it could be a DE./DT. But when the FA dust settles it could end up being a DE/OLB type.
    Just to early to do anything but guess yet.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Can hood play nose tackle it seems like he should be strong enough

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I said the same thing

  • Matt Manzo

    In 4 would be awesome! If everything before that goes perfect.

  • tricitysteel

    There are times I wish the Steelers would’ve kept Ta’amu, even if it was for nothing more than having properly positioned depth instead of always trying to convert college DEs to NT.

  • Callentown

    Got rings . . ? We do.