Pittsburgh Steelers rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers may appear to be ahead of schedule in comparison to what could be reasonably projected early on, based on his draft position and his college tape, which does wonders to explain why he fell to the sixth round in May despite his eye-catching measurements.
But to say that he’s on schedule to make the 53-man roster as one of six or seven defensive linemen would be a little more than premature.
Take, for instance, the last two days of practice. For most of training camp, McCullers and Hebron Fangupo, who spent the year on the 53-man roster a year ago while only playing sparingly, split reps as the second-team nose tackle behind starter Steve McLendon.
After McLendon suffered a concussion, however, the coaches chose to move starting left defensive end Cam Thomas to nose tackle over both of the more inexperienced players.
But when Cameron Heyward was injured on Wednesday, moving Thomas to right defensive end, Fangupo was the one asked to run with the first-team defense.
If all remains status quo, Fangupo would figure to start the preseason opener tomorrow against the New York Giants as well. Should Heyward return, however, it will be interesting to see who gets on the field first between the two reserve nose tackles.
The area in which he can really work to separate himself and steal away a coveted spot on the 53-man roster, though, would be special teams.
Not running down kick returns, mind you, although it could be good for a laugh, and in truth, he wears his weight quite well.
Rather, he could carve out a niche for himself doing what his body type is ideally suited for: blocking kicks.
At 6’7” with close to 37” arms and 11” hands, “Shade Tree” could certainly get his hand up every now and then to block a kick.
He has started to show glimpses of being the “obstruction” he was touted as in the Steelers’ post-draft press conference when he managed to get a hand on a Brendon Kay pass in practice yesterday.
Getting his hand on a field goal attempt or extra point try would certainly open the eyes of special teams coach Danny Smith, who can use his sway to try to squeeze McCullers in as the last defensive lineman on the roster for special teams purposes.
McCullers has already shown some promise that he could develop into a legitimate contributor on defense in time, but foremost in his thoughts should probably be showing that he can be a legitimate contributor on special teams immediately.