On Daniel McCullers: Play High, Play Low

New Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers is a very big man. So big that he has quite a hard time getting small, which is a problem for a nose tackle.

How big a problem is it? When Jim Wexell asked him yesterday how often he’s heard from coaches that he needs to play lower, he answered that he’s been told that “probably every day since I’ve been in football”.

At 6’7”, for a position generally populated by players not much taller than six feet in height, it can naturally be more challenging to play lower on a consistent basis, and when you don’t get low, you lose the leverage battles. Even when you’re of gargantuan proportion, as is the case with the 350-360-pound McCullers.

We’ve already been over the fact that his game tape makes it very evident that he plays too high. When you combine that with his chronic inability to get off the ball, it can result in him looking up at the sky from his back far more often than a man his size should.

Even McCullers understands that he needs to learn to play lower on a more consistent basis, which was the topic of discussion during his post-draft conference call:

“At times it was, playing high that was one of my weaknesses but whenever I do get lower I can be a great player and I can’t be too loose or it stops. I am going to continue to work to where I can play each and every play and dominate the opponent in front of me”.

If he’s going to learn to dominate on every play, then defensive line coach John Mitchell is going to have a big hand in that, because he’s the one that is going to be tasked with trying to train McCullers into getting low on a consistent basis.

But he also needs to play high, occasionally, because his height for the position does offer one advantage over the traditional nose tackle: the ability to bat balls.

Let me make this clear: McCullers isn’t simply extraordinarily tall for a nose tackle. He also has extraordinarily long arms at better than 36 and a half inches, and 11-inch hands. His wingspan is remarkable, and it would be beneficial if he can learn to take advantage of it.

Even though general manager Kevin Colbert said during the draft that he didn’t think there was necessarily a ‘too tall’ for the nose tackle position, it’s clear that McCullers has had his issues in playing the leverage game, in which his height hasn’t helped.

But he’s also fairly athletic for his size, and is also continuously trimming down, weight-wise, because, as Mitchell said, the team could also be looking to move him outside to defensive end at times, where his height will be less of a disadvantage.

So while the Steelers will work over the course of this offseason to get their new nose tackle to play low, they must also not let him forget the times that he needs to play with height.

Imagine McCullers bull rushing a center into the pocket and then using his massive arms to bat down a hurried throw. Perhaps that’s the type of image that Colbert saw in his head when he called his new defensive lineman “intriguing”.

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

    When looking at tape of McCullers, the first thing that sticks out to me is how slow he is off the ball and he plays too high. If coach Mitchel can get him to punch out as he is taking that first step, it would improve his ability to make contact with the OL. Take two steps forward and start standing up. As I watched the Super Bowl last year, I noticed that it wasn’t the overhyped dbacks that caused Manning all the problems. It was the DL pushing the Oline back into his face and getting their hands up in his passing lanes that made him jump around in the pocket and mess up his timing.
    Will McCullers be the next Red Bryant. I hope so but doubt it. Even being half that good will be a great asset moving forward.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Teaching someone to get low is an interesting concept. It is so completely natural and automatic with some people. I worry a little that it’s like dancing or singing, you either subconsciously know to stay lower than your opponent or you just don’t really recognize leverage like some people have no rhythm.

  • cencalsteeler

    The staff needs to set up the “limbo bar” for him. Install it above his stance, so he can get accustomed to getting out of his stance low.

  • cencalsteeler

    His body type seems ideal for an offensive tackle. If the NT position doesn’t work for him, I’d hate to lose a guy with that size. Give him a season (or offseason) to see if he can transition over. Sometimes, if we take our blinders off, we realize we’re trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Patience and hard work. It an be learned. Hopefully he learns to stay low and then the occasional batted ball for an INT would be great. I just realized that if you add his height to his arm length it’s over 10′. Wow!

  • blue

    Potential starter. Lets see what our coaches are made of.

  • greeny

    or even DE

  • chris ward

    McCullers is going to be a project for Coach Mitchell. Hard for a 6ft7 player to get his pad level low, hope Mitchell can work with him and improve his first step and get his pad level low on a consistent basis.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I can’t help but wonder why some coach didn’t look at him and say….hey your 6’7″ tall, maybe you could play LT.

  • dgh57

    Lol, I can just hear Munchak saying, “you wanna do what with McCullers” when someone suggest moving him to OT. :-)

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Being slow out of his stance, I fear, would prove disastrous for our QB. If he were a quicker player there might be something to work with but I agree hate to possibly lose a player of his physical stature. I’m hoping he sticks.

  • RASTA

    I say get this guy enrolled in 30 pilates classes followed each session by some Thai stretching massage all before training camp kicks off, and this beast of a man will be more than ready to be taught to keep his now more easier to control center as low as his coach needs him to and be a contributor this season! ps I can’t wait to watch him out there for kick attempts. Go Steelers! btw…much like Williams from the Blackshirts a few drafts ago, if he can’t seem to be coached to get out of his stance quicker, he will be useless at this level and will be gone just like all of the other slow initial steppers before him.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I think wrestling would also help him

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Some of that may be he doesn’t have high reflexes, but KNOWING the snap count has a way of helping some of that.

    Now that being said, I am not suggesting we try to switch him, I am mostly saying I am amazed that no one else has actually tried at an earlier point in his career to make the switch.

  • Craig Ressler

    Weight has probably been problematic but if he were to lose even more weight could he make a move to O-line if he doesn’t work out at NT for Steelers? If he could get down to 330 or so, he seems quick enough. Jared Valdheer is actually a tad taller and about 330 and a very solid overall LT. This is just me talking, I don’t know if such a move would even be feasible.