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.