Steelers vs Giants Film Review: Daniel McCullers

Even with starting nose tackle Steve McLendon missing the preseason opener against the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers still took third-team reps at the position behind Cam Thomas and Hebron Fangupo.

He did play significantly more than Fangupo, however, who figures to be his primary competition in terms of winning a roster spot this year. Because of his size, McCullers was able win some individual battles from sheer strength, but he also showed well overall in his NFL debut, as highlighted below.

“Shade Tree” didn’t take long to make an impact, as on his second snap of the game late in the second quarter, he powered through rookie second-round center Weston Richburg with ease, knocking on the doorstep of the quarterback before trying to work around the right side and get a hand in the air. The pressure flushed Ryan Nassib out of the pocket and forced him to check down to his running back for a loss of one.

On the second play of his next possession, McCullers was able to shed Richburg on an interior running play, but was just out of reach of making the tackle. The back was quickly swallowed up in part by the linebackers that his penetration helped free after a short gain. The Giants commentators were prompted to talk about Big Dan after the play.

Two plays later, McCullers got high off the snap and allowed the center to get underneath him. With the left guard working a double team, the big nose tackle was worked back until Richburg released, after which McCullers was able to free himself and chip in on the tackle. Note how he basically wraps his long arms around pretty much the entire pile and just tackles everybody to make sure the ball carrier is brought down.

Later in the game, on his final drive, McCullers was running with the third-team sub-package defensive line, along with Brian Arnfelt. He was double teamed again on this play, and showed that he can indeed be taken out of plays. The center and right guard managed to drive him back a fair amount and hold him there as the running back took advantage of the hole provided by the two down lineman look, running for a first down on second and six.

The Steelers trotted out the extra lineman on the next play, however, and McCullers got his revenge. He did a much better job on Richburg on this play, staying lower and extending his arms to keep the center out of his chest. After walking him into the pocket for a couple steps, his used his long reach to grab hold of the running back and swallow him, though Jordan Zumwalt registered the primary tackle.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • superfan

    In these GIFs, McCullers seems a lot quicker off of the snap than he did in his college film. That’s huge for his development.

  • 2443scott

    i see big things in this guy hes already starting to get doubled up on ….hes a rookie and has alot to learn but the steelers need to work with him because hes a diamond that needs buffing …..he may be big but hes not one those guys who big and out of shape …once he learns to close and open the hole in middle lebeaus crazy blizts will get sack happy when he needs to be 2 man covered.


    If it takes two OLinemen to “drive him back” only one yard, I’m all for it. The gain on that run shouldn’t be blamed on him.

  • Paul Barracliffe

    I am so excited about this guy

  • steeltown

    First action in the pros.. pretty damn good showing McCullers

  • joed32

    Biggest surprise among the rookies. Everyone was saying “practice squad” and now he’s a fan favorite.

  • dkoy85

    I really hope he gets second string reps tomorrow night. I think his play and work deserve a shot.

  • Jesse Murray

    He did this against a guy that will likely be Giants starting center very shortly. As noted he needs to stay low with consistency when he does he will be a genuine force.

  • SteelersDepot

    This is one of the biggest things that I’ve noticed in limited action thus far. It was one of the things that worried me when I broke down his Vols play. That and pad level.

  • James Goins

    I agree. His college film gave me the impression that he would never make it past the PS.

  • DoctorNoah

    Damn he’s (too?) tall! Needs to keep staying down

  • treeher

    Even if he’s not in on a stop, if he can absorb a double team, I’m ok with that because it frees up someone else. That’s the job of a nose tackle, isn’t it, to stop up the middle?

  • PA2AK

    he did get turned a bit, but he wasn’t dominated either.

  • Jonas

    Exactly, one yard? I’m luckier with having a LB free!

  • Jonas

    When he can hold his ground or establish new LOS against 2nd string linemen, then he definitely should have his roster spot..
    Even if Fangupo still is the 2nd stringer, we have to give Shade Tree the opportunities to work aginst the 2nd string!

  • Douglas Andrews

    Alot of credit has to go to Coach Mitchell.

  • dcsteeler

    I’m not an OL expert by any means but I found the last GIF impressive. About halfway through, McCullers is hold the Giants center back with one hand and reaching to tackle the running back with the other. Big Dan has definitely been eating his Wheaties…

  • Biggie

    This year he could definitely help wear down OLs in a rotation or picking up a series here and there to spell McLendon, especially in 2nd half. He is a space eater with a great push which opens lanes for LBs and forces QBs to feel uncomfortable.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Weston Richburg is a second-stringer at worst, who could well start at rg on opening day for the Giants. He was their 2nd round pick and played on multiple lines in this game. I believe all his playing time may have been against second-stringers, in fact, as the Giants’ third-team line only played about 7 snaps at the end of the game. At that point, the Steelers put in Al Lapuaho.

  • steeltown

    That’s encouraging

  • RedCarpetDefense

    This guy just tackles the pile….classic.

  • charles

    3-4 has to have a nose, then LeBeau can play, you’re right.

  • Matt Manzo

    Ya! That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in awhile!

  • Matt Manzo

    I’d like to hear the pros thoughts on this one:
    The difference between MBryant and McCullers?
    Both are super raw with a ton of potential. It seems like McCullers is improving a little more each day, where Bryant was doing the 2 steps forward, 1 back for awhile.
    Bryant’s highlights make him stand out but his miscues and mistakes have been there too.
    I feel like McCullers is showing us what we want to see from a raw rookie with potential.

    My question to you guys is: Do you see the same thing? I know they’re two completly different positions. I just found it fascinating in comparing the twos performance so far.

  • Leon Mcnair

    He will beat out fangupo are u crazy , he collapsed the line

  • joed32

    A lot more to learn as a receiver and Bryant didn’t have a lot of experience in College either. He’s fast and he can catch but the rest he has to be taught, I think he’s doing fine. Love how McCullers is picking things up and getting better.

  • steeltown

    To be honest, im happy with where Bryant is, people got pretty down on him after the subpar performance in the 1st preseason game, but by all accounts he’s making some big plays in camp. He only started 12or13games in college so he is no where near polished. The coaches will be the first to say they knew he was going to take some time to get up to speed.

    McCullers is just a pleasant surprise. Im not sure anyone expected him to be playing as well as he has, im very encouraged with his performance thus far

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m not saying Bryant isn’t doin good. I think he’s doin great.
    I just wondered if anybody else sees a difference in their development and performance so far?
    I’m excited that we have these two later rnd draft picks actually looking like they’ll get some playing time this year!

  • sean mcmartin

    McCullers could be used as a FB in goal line situations. Maybe RB ala William Perry…

  • Matthew Anderson

    Is it just me or is he inordinately strong in a league of strong dudes. It just looks like even when he misses he doesn’t get dominated. Love to see him on 53. Biggest camp darling maybe ever.

  • James Goins

    He collapses lines NOW. But his college film was much less impressive. He was very slow off of the line and he played way too high. Check the old vids that Dave posted on this site. I am much more impressed with him now though.

  • CW

    Unless Godzilla was on the camp roster one year for the Steelers, Big Dan probably is the biggest camp darling ever. ‘)

  • Leon Mcnair

    He improved imagine 2 years from now !!!

  • Steve

    Big Dan has been eating a lot of everything, he’s a growing boy.

  • James Goins

    He’s gonna be a beast!

  • Jonas

    Good to hear.
    Eager to see if he can strength his campaign today!

  • Steelers@2010

    This was only his first preseason game folks, give the kid some time. One thing is definitely for sure, one guy will not be able to hold him, he’s just too big and strong.

  • Joe King

    Mitch has been working hard on this kid…with good results thus far. Kid will get much better when his technique evolves.