What To Expect When You’re Expecting A Giant Nose Tackle

“They’ve been waiting for him to make a play like that for four years!”

This is what the announcer said, excitedly, late in the Tennessee game versus South Carolina last season when Daniel McCullers made a big stop. The center tried to reach block him, but McCullers gave him a shove out of the way and tracked down the back for no gain.

Four years is a long time to wait for a 6’7”, 350-pound defensive tackle to make an impactful play. Of course it’s hyperbole—McCullers transferred to Tennessee after two years of playing junior college ball, for starters—but it speaks to the scarcity of quality on-field production found on McCullers’ college resume—namely, game footage.

There’s a reason that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin described him as “a size prospect” in the team’s post-draft press conference. The reality is that his draft stock was evaluated based on the potential offered by his physical assets, and not his game tape or the numbers that he put up in college.

In 19 starts over the past two seasons, McCullers registered a sack and a half and 10 tackles for loss. He broke up two passes at the line of scrimmage, registered six hurries, forced one fumble, and blocked two kicks.

In other words, the most playing time he’ll receive this year might come on the field goal blocking unit next to Steve McLendon in the middle.

Realistically, 2014 will likely be a glorified redshirt season for McCullers, as 2013 was for Hebron Fangupo; ditto for Alameda Ta’amu in 2012.

If ever there were a prospect that you would want to hand over to defensive line coach John Mitchell and let him take his time breaking down and molding into what he needs him to be, it would be McCullers, because his physical attributes alone can make him a valuable piece of the defensive line rotation.

The first thing that he absolutely must work on is simply getting off the ball in time. As Alex Kozora thoroughly pointed out in his draft breakdown, he was routinely the last man off the ball on a play-to-play basis, which starts him off behind the play.

Even when he does get off the ball in a timely fashion, his play is far too inconsistent, with his two biggest problems being playing height and motor. He stays too tall too often, which makes it easier for linemen to move him around, despite his size. He also has a tendency to go half-speed, so to speak. Whether or not that’s due to conditioning or lack of motivation, I can’t say.

But when everything lines up as it should, there are glimpses of the player he should be capable of being, which is a dominant interior player. He may never ascend to that level—not on a consistent basis—but as a sixth-round pick, if he can become a regular rotation player, that would be a win.

In the meantime, he gave all the right answers during his post-draft conference call with the local media. We’ll see where that gets him in year one.

On the team known for Casey Hampton drafting him: “Hopefully I can be as dominating as he was so I’m going to continue to work. The Steelers believe in me, so I’m going to grind and try to be one of the best”.

On his ability to play low, despite being 6’7”: “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”.

I was getting a lot of talk about my playing leverage and playing intensity on every play. I’m working on it. I feel like I can be a dominant player if I just get in the best shape possible. I’m trimming down, working on my feet and quickness every day. I’m going to go in with the mindset that I’m going to get better”.

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

    Mitchell has got his work cut out for him … those are pretty poor stats for 2 years of play !

  • steeltown

    Just another prospect to groom and maybe someday become a piece to the puzzle. In the end, this kid was projected as early as the 3rd Rd, so a 6th was a good value pick.

  • Steel PAul

    Even if he could get SOME of this fixed up and be a value on FG block, Goal Line, 4th and 1’s, etc…

    Put him, Mac and Fangupo together on the line to create an impasse.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    Who ever predicted or rated this guy a third rounder must be out of their mind.

  • steeltown

    I would agree I don’t see him as an early Rd prospect, but I saw him projected there all over the place

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Dontari Poe, anyone? Given athleticism aren’t there but you have to think again about those coaching staffs, they are at collegiate level, not NFL. More than most of the time, they do not have the knowledge of proper techniques to coach u a player.

  • James Kling

    My guess is he doesn’t make the cut. Maybe practice squad?
    But if they can coach him up, wow.
    Also interesting to me that NFLDS had his primary position as DT, and secondary as… OG? He’d be a big body in goal line rushing attempts!

  • SteelersDepot

    Even if the gif above McCullers is late off the snap and he raises straight up. Look, I hope this kid can prove me wrong, but just because he is a big boy doesn’t mean he will make it. That length hurts him.

  • cencalsteeler

    Can Rooney recruit Tom Shaw as a full time employee? That is the type of training McCullers needs. His physical attributes are obviously there, his skills just need to be honed.

  • dgh57

    Mount McCullers will be a situational player at best! Hopefully he proves me wrong because we could use a plugger in the middle of our DL!

  • Roberto Vaquero Bazán

    Certainly What help him get a clear shot was because he was late!

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Yeah, wonder if he could offer anything in a pure run stopping role.

  • Dan Mari

    There’s really no reason to rush the guy. He isn’t beating out McClendon for a starting position anyway this year. Everything I read says that he’s a coachable guy. He will work all summer, and if he shows some solid play he will make the team as a situational rotation player. Military college, has shown that he can drop weight and keep it off. 6th round pick. I don’t see a downside.

  • sweetleb

    how about the o-line, if his feet are average for the d-line he could make the shift to rt.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Im counting on this guy to be very serviceable this yr as well as next an possibly start yr 3

  • Lucus Rodriguez

    I think it was Kiper that had him as the best prospect available after Metenburger (sp) and had both of them in the top 100. which is a late 3rd or early 4th rd pick

  • charles

    Get his weight under control and he will gain on that first step. Given a reasonable first step then he could be a force especially with experience. Makes one think of the refrigerator.

  • scott2443

    its interesting the old saying was rookies cant start on def but over last couple years rookies seem to be more and more ….fans want the rookies to start alot sooner then they have will this year see maybe 3 out of this draft start ….should be interesting times in ota`s and practices