NT Interest Says Less About McLendon Than It Does About Fangupo

When it was reported that the Pittsburgh Steelers were meeting with a free agent nose tackle yesterday, this move was no doubt received as a bit of a pleasant surprise by many fans who question the decision to play Steve McLendon at nose tackle.

As I have written previously, while McLendon is the best candidate on the roster to fulfill the duties of the nose tackle in this defense, perhaps nose tackle is not the best position for him as a player. In other words, they may not be getting as much out of him on the field as they possibly can.

As seen by current values on the market, however, it seems rather unfeasible to secure a starting-caliber nose tackle in free agency, and a rookie is not likely to start, at least not right away.

The Steelers’ apparent interest in a nose tackle, then, I believe says a lot more about Hebron Fangupo than it does McLendon—coupled with the loss of Al Woods, who started two games at nose tackle last season.

Fangupo, the third-year nose tackle that will turn 29 later this offseason, played but a few snaps last year after winning a training camp battle with Alameda Ta’amu, the Steelers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2012.

Ta’amu may have evidently gone on to play at an acceptable level for the Arizona Cardinals this past season, but according to Jim Wexell, the Steelers believed he lacked the lateral mobility necessary to play nose tackle in Pittsburgh’s defense.

Meanwhile, the Steelers don’t appear to be overly pleased with Fangupo’s development either, which is why Woods, primarily a defensive end, practiced all offseason ahead of both Fangupo and Ta’amu.

With Woods now gone, the Steelers can no longer basically insulate Fangupo from playing time, because there’s no candidate behind McLendon along the defensive line that even has the body type to play nose tackle other than Fangupo.

So when the Steelers brought in former San Diego Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas for a look yesterday, who was benched during the season, it hinted at what the Steelers are probably thinking at the position.

It would appear that the idea is not to find a nose tackle that would allow McLendon to move over to defensive end, but rather to get another prospect into the system at nose tackle that John Mitchell and Dick LeBeau are more comfortable putting on the field.

The fact that the Steelers also brought in defensive end candidate Alex Carrington further suggests that the plan is not to move McLendon from where he has planted his roots over the past couple seasons. Will there be other interior reserve candidates brought in for a look to further verify this theory? Time will sort it out.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • 804Stiller

    It’s kinda disappointing that these guys left without signing contracts. Man, we are razor thin at DE. I really wonder what the FO thinks of Nick Williams and Arnfelt. At this point, they have to be thought of with ‘more hope than confidence’ like Spence.

  • Paddy

    If the team wanted them they would still be here

  • Douglas Andrews

    Look for McClendon to improve in year 2 as a starter. Think were all guilty of comparing him with the “Big Snack Hampton” and obviously they’re 2 different players. The site has provided numbers to show that Mac did his job last year but hopefully with the experience under his belt he can be a force this season.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    With how our defensive lineman have developed over the past 5 years, I would keep Mitchell as far away from them as possible.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I’m more confident with McClendon in the middle than end and think fixing the lbs will solve the run D problems.

    That said, I’m OK with him at de as well. That’s why finding a starting lineman in FA and leaving the need at CB for the draft is my preference.

    I also think you get a better player at both positions for the same money if you go CB in the draft.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I think the plan is to find anybody who can at this point who can play on the DL since we have no one.

  • Axe Skot

    Ta’amu lacked the lateral quickness that the Steelers defense requires…you mean like the lateral quickness that Big Snack had? Same Big Snack that saw the PUP list because he couldn’t run? Explain that to me.

  • Eric2291

    Lateral quickness and endurance running are pretty different things…


    In the sense of a two gap coverage NT, strong enough to get consistent push also, McLendon will never be that guy. FWIW neither is Nix, I think people on his wagon need to realize that…if big Vince no longer wants to be in NE I’d like to know what his number is, else look at some kids coming out like Ray Carrethers in the latter rounds.

  • KenNYSteelerFan

    Sure. When Big Snack was dominant was early 2000’s to 2010. However in today’s NFL you need more versatile lineman and more athletes on defense. Everybody is bigger and faster our there including these read option QB’s. With no lateral movement you become a statue. Not to mention without proper footwork it’s a double whammy.

  • joed32

    Run a 40, nope, but he was quick as a cat in his own little domain.

  • steeltown

    Yea funny thing is one knock on Cam Thomas coming out of college was lack of lateral agility and quickness…

  • steeltown

    I would be happy with a 5th or 6th Rder spent on Ryan Carrethers

  • DoctorNoah

    I have to say that, even if this is some irrational exuberance, I am fairly excited about our D-line maturing into a strong unit. I think Cam Heyward is gearing towards a Pro Bowl season this year, and I like a lot of what I’ve seen from Stevie Mac. Arnfelt and Williams have potential. We need one more piece. Whether that’s a big body in the middle, which is what we’ve been used to with Hampton, and slide McClendon over to DE where he can penetrate a little more, or else pick up a strong DE.

    Overall, I think there will continue to be an overall shift from the mentality of trying to use three Dlineman to just plug the middle or occupy 4 blockers and allow just OLB’s to penetrate. I think Lebeau is smart enough to work around the personnel he has available, and it may involve more D-line penetration, given Cam’s skill set and the potential that we’ve seen in McClendon.

  • James Kling

    Also need to know Wilfork’s med status. A torn Achilles can sap a lot of push from a NT, and takes ~12 months to recover from. That would put his return date into the playing season. That said, 90% of a 32 yo Wilfork would still be better than most NT options not named Ngata, and he’d still have 2-3 years left in the tank, IMO. I like Carrethers as well, put up numbers that Ellis, for instance, did not. The NT pool in this draft is shallow, but then, it’s never as deep as most imagine.


    It is shallow, making me think Carrethers is going to move up the board for the 3-4 teams needing a NT…small school guy but he consistently handled the dbl team and held up…might go earlier than 5 or 6 Steel.

    I think Wilfork sees the writing wall and wants to check out the market while there still is a market….mild interest there really.

  • srdan

    Don’t judge that book by it’s cover. Big snack was one of the best athletes on the team in his own way.

  • srdan

    I wish I knew enough football to make posts like this. Great post brother!

  • Bradys_Dad

    that domain being the cafeteria …..

  • cencalsteeler

    I don’t think we can afford Wilfork. The Pats signed Revis for that big contract and then turned to Vince and asked him for a pay cut. Vince felt disrespected, and asked for a release. Just a hunch, but someone will offer him more than the Steelers can afford. Would be a welcomed addition though if somehow some way the stars aligned.

  • steeltown

    If we could get Ellis or Carrethers between the 4th and 6th Rds I’d be happy, unless we sign Cam Thomas for depth


    Mild interest…imo when guys his size have ACL damage, we’re not likely to see the same player if they do return, but you’re right on a cash fit.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    804 Stiller, yes, EXTREMELY disappointing in the case of Woods, not Hood IMO. I have been very encouraged by our FA moves thus far, but letting Woods walk for chicken feed was a BAD move, akin in my mind to letting K. Lewis walk last year.
    We can solve our DL problems but HAVE TO find a true NT. MacClendon, a player I really like, just SCREAMS great 3-4 DE – a perfect fit for him, and it solves a big part of our DL problem by giving us 2 very good DEs. All we need is the NT to pair with them.
    Rather than taking a Chargers retread that would seem to be a risk for lack of consistent play, why not DRAFT a NT in rd 3 or 4? Perhaps they think they can coach consistency into this kid, but he’s been in the league 5 yrs now and no dice thus far. Perhaps our coaching is just that good, don’t know.
    I know, I know, a draftee NT won’t help us this year. But perhaps it’s time to change LeBeau’s stance on playing rookies – his modus operandi is no longer something that we can afford (though it worked great when we were drafting expertly year after year). Draft a NT and start him with Mac and Heyward as your starting DEs. Sign Carrington as he sounds like a good YOUNG talent.
    We can no longer afford to take 4 years to wait to start a defensive guy (then let someone else scarf him up when his rookie contract expires), just can’t do that in our current situation.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    ATL96, thank you!! I have only been saying this on all 3 or 4 Steelers websites I normally troll. Not Nix at 15, Carrethers, McCullers from Tenn, or Ellis from La Tech. AND PLAY HIM FOR GOD’S SAKE! Don’t take 4 years to develop/play him then let him walk away to someone else for peanuts (can you say Al Woods?)!!!!
    Oh, and just to be clear I am not saying take Carrethers, McCullers or Ellis at 15 – I would say round 3 to 4 depending on which guy you are talking about.l

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Steeltown, unfortunately I think we would have to go rd4 to get Carrethers. Perhaps 5th or 6th for the other guys from what I hear/read.

  • steeltown

    To be honest I’d be ok with selecting him in the 4th Rd, especially if Cam Thomas is not signed for depth leaving us with only Fangupo behind McL

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Agreed, we have to do something gotta have DLs on the roster! Really hate that they lost Woods, he’s gonna be a good one and could have been our NT either this year or in the future. One of those head-scratchers that the Steelers do (like K Allen last year) that makes you wonder if they are: 1) not paying attention, or 2) are paying attention but are too self-assured to react.

  • Axe Skot

    Sorry, but I think you are crazy if you think Hampton’s strength was in his quickness, unless you define his domain as being one step. His strength was his body type, his understanding of how to use his hands and his dominant lower as well as upper body strength. His effectiveness was diminished some when teams were able to pull quickly laterally and eliminate his ability to bull rush and get his hands on linemen.

  • 804Stiller

    Actually, NT is about the only position that a rook can come in and play right away. I just don’t think we can find a great prospect in the 3 or 4 round. It would basically be like drafting Ta’amu again and hoping he pans out. On the other hand, it would probably be a stretch to go for NIX at 15. At this point, I see 90 staying at NT and playing at an ‘above the line’ level because it will be more realistic to fix the DE issue than NT.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Then all the more reason to draft a NT (does seem like it wouldn’t involve a lot of the famous LeBeau D complexity to stand your ground and occupy 2 OLs!).
    I think Mac is just waiting to break out but I don’t think he will ever be more than a serviceable NT – his skill set is more attuned to 5 tech. Above the line at NT, yes. Great, no.
    But at DE for us, I think he could be a monster and his pass rushing would pair nicely with Heyward.
    The FA crop of DEs is pretty pitiful at this point; a LOT of teams will be looking for DEs in the draft which leads me to believe that we would be better off drafting a NT (can get one later in the draft than a DE as well, which will allow us to address CB/WR).
    Just my thoughts based on what I see…….

  • Tom

    Ta’amu is pretty quick when there are blue lights in pursuit.

  • 804Stiller

    Agreed, regarding 90 to DE. I feel he could be really good at that position. Just wish we had someone at least as good as him at NT.

  • The Dude

    I know we can’t afford him probably, but I would like to get B.J. Raji in the middle of the line. Frees up McLendon to return to end and truly allow us to address other needs in the draft.

  • joed32

    There too.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I think the 6’8″ and 360LB McCullers can be had in the fifth round. he is worth a try and less risk than the human turnstile Nix at 15.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Have faith dude – draft is coming!

  • Babybull

    Need new DL coach how come every other team never talks about making their linemen forget everything they no retrain them that’s crazy tamu looked good in AZ they didn’t haft to retrain I think Mitchell needs to retrain his self first