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.