New-Look Steve McLendon Will Better Serve Team Needs This Season

From the sounds of it, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon would very much like to forget about last season. It was his first year as a starter, and at times, it showed. But he knows that he can’t forget, because he knows that it taught him so much on his journey to preparing for a better season in 2014.

According to Jim Wexell at Steel City Insider, McLendon simply overtrained, running “legit” three times a day at one point and dropping over 20 points in the process, but coming at the expense of his strength and durability.

McLendon sprained his ankle late in the season, which plagued him throughout December and caused him to miss two non-consecutive games as a result. But he also aggravated his hamstring in the season opener, which according to Wexell he struggled with for the next month.

In fact, I’d even forgotten that McLendon tweaked his hamstring so early in the season. It didn’t impact him that much in practices, and he never missed a game. But it’s interesting in hindsight because it was the season opener that saw him at his most productive as a pass rusher.

This is an area of his game that showed promise prior to the 2013 season, and was one of the intriguing qualities about him being a regular on the defense, but that pass rushing seemed to quickly fade after the first game.

Perhaps it was a combination of the early hamstring pull and the eventual deterioration of his body due to his loss of strength that conspired to marginalize one of his more unique assets.

And while he individually played well against the run—much better than many seem to be willing to believe—there is at the same time no question that he struggled to fulfill the defining role of the nose tackle last year, which is the space occupier.

This is something that he readily copped to, in fact. As he told Wexell, “I could move quick, but I couldn’t hold those guys off the linebackers, and that’s what we’re known for”.

With Vince Williams a rookie at the buck position and Lawrence Timmons a playmaker accustomed to flying through the holes, McLendon’s inability to draw and hold double teams against the run negatively affected the productivity in this area of the inside linebackers. Add in Ryan Shazier and a shift for Timmons from the mack to the buck and it only becomes of greater importance to keep the inside backers clean.

McLendon was able to make his own fair share of individual plays against the run. He frequently was able to beat the center or a guard off the snap and penetrate into the backfield, for example. He still wants to be able to do that, and insists that his speed and quickness is still very much intact.

But he also wants to do a better job of playing the role of a traditional nose tackle, and to that end, he’s put on more weight, claiming to be up to 330 pounds now, and as Wexell notes, “shows off a moon face and round body that makes him look a lot more like Casey Hampton than at any time in the past”.

McLendon had his moments last season where he looked like Chris Hoke and Jay Ratliff, two of the three players that he’s modelled his game around, but the hope is that he looks as much like that third player—Casey Hampton—this year on the field as he now does on the sidelines.

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

    Early in his career, we couldn’t help but notice the penetration McLendon could get as a result of his quick twitch at the snap. Fans in the bar wanted him to replace Hood several years ago. Regaining his health plus the experience he has acquired could make him a monster this season.

  • JAMESH

    P.S. – In the ad in the upper right hand corner of this page “One odd tip for a flat stomach,” is that Charlie Batch?

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Good to know. I’m not a big fan of the rounding theory of exercise but knowing about the failure of the workout program helps everything make sense. He’s a lot better than he showed last year.

    Hampton wasn’t good because he was fat. He was good in spit of it and could have been better if he was in better shape. Fat can help you use leverage and give your muscles a rest in some situations where your weight alone is enough to stop someones progress but if Hampton wasn’t unusually strong and built perfectly for the job it probably would have ended up being a negative.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    I really like McClendon – but not as a NT.
    IMO, the sooner we can get McCullers (or Thomas? or somebody else?) up to speed on NT, and with that move McClendon to DE, the better.
    At 6’4″ tall, he is right in the sweetspot for our DE from a height perspective. Currently too heavy to play DE, but if Tomlin is seriously considering using Thomas as a DE, then certainly Mc could play there as well.
    Beyond that, he is stout against the run individually, could set the edge nicely and as you pointed out in your posting, he is a very capable pass rusher.
    I know that Tuitt’s drafting probably puts to bed a move to DE for McClendon, but I think he is playing out of position!

  • cencalsteeler

    I’m all for him gaining some size to man his position. I just hope his added size doesn’t slow him down in the fourth qtr. It’s either going to work for him or against him. Hopefully, it’s not the latter.

  • Zach

    I wish the fans stopped the nonsense of McLendon to DE, or that he is playing out of position…our coaches know where he’s more suited to play. He played well last year as a NT and should improve in his 2nd year. he was not the issue with our run defense.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Thanks for posting Matthew i can see the line improving by leaps and bounds this year with the experience that McClendon got last year. I’m really anxious to see his improvement in year two as a starter.

  • Ike Evans

    I like mclendon at that weight i was skeptical when they made him drop weight last year

  • Matthew Marczi

    McLendon believes that his added strength will prevent him from wearing down this year from all the double teams he’s asked to take, and he also seems to think that he’s worked toward preventing injuries by, for example, strengthening his ankles, so I think (hope) that won’t be a problem.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I like the way Jim phrased it in his article: “Accused by some of being a defensive end because of his tall, 6-4 frame…”

  • Brendon Glad

    I’m not going to argue either side because I don’t know the facts well enough. It seems like he hasn’t been tried much at DE…but perhaps he has, and has failed at it. I’ve said a number of times that 3-4 DE is too tough for me to understand. There have been the Chris Hoke’s who seemed to be effective swinging all 3 DL positions as a backup. Then there have been the huge number of others who seemed to not be able to swing. So I’m guessing the coaches are right, and Steve has proven he can’t handle DE. But I’m not sure cuz I can’t recall seeing it tried.

  • Zach

    Well said, Matthew. I’m sure that if the steelers didn’t view Mac as a capable NT that could anchor the run defense, they would have picked up a NT in FA (e.g. Soliai). Instead they picked up Thomas, which will play DE for us.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Zach, I don’t remember saying that he WAS the issue with our run defense, just that I thought he might be better suited, given his skills, at DE in a 3-4.
    It’s not nonsense at all, given the way Tomlin is already moving people around the DL.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    They drafted a NT in McCullers, and Soliai was too steep for them $ wise.

  • Zach

    You’re right about Soliai — he was expensive but had the steelers deemed the NT position crucial, they had the money to do so (at the expense of not signing Mitchell and another FA like Moats). McCullers is a 6th round project, at least 3 yrs away from starting, although I’d love if he became the future starter!

  • Zach

    TC, sorry if I meant that you implied that he was the issue with the run defense — that’s more a myth that’s flying around since last season that I felt was worth commenting on. I still think he should be best suited at NT otherwise the coaches would put him at DE and get someone to play the nose — Tomlin has repeatedly said (in the OL context though) that he wouldn’t shuffle starters to fill vacant positions as that creates 2 problems instead of 1.