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.