Young D-Linemen Seizing Opportunity Provided By McLendon’s Misfortune

It’s taken several days to learn, but we now finally know that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Steve McLendon has been out of the last four practice sessions while dealing with a concussion.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly first got the story out of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is also making his way back from a concussion of his own, and head coach Mike Tomlin at long last confirmed after practice that that is indeed the case.

At the very least, as Dale Lolley reported, McLendon was spotted off on his own doing some running yesterday while drills were going on, possibly suggesting that he could be cleared to resume practice soon.

In the meantime, however, many of the Steelers’ young players have been seizing upon the opportunity provided by McLendon’s misfortune by absorbing his reps, which has filtered to the defensive end position with Cam Thomas moving over to nose tackle.

For three straight says, Thomas shifting over from left end to nose gave rookie second-round draft pick Stephon Tuitt the opportunity to practice with the first-team defense, and he’s received rave reviews for his performance.

I’m not saying that that will necessarily put him on the fast track to starting any sooner than he would otherwise, but it certainly didn’t hurt either.

As Alex Kozora also reported from yesterday’s camp, Thomas even played some at Cameron Heyward’s right end spot when the latter left practice with a nick.

That gave another nose tackle a chance for some playing time. In this case, it was Hebron Fangupo, who was the reserve nose tackle last year.

Fangupo and rookie Daniel McCullers have been exchanging reps with the second-team defense at nose tackle throughout camp so far, but it seems Fangupo was the first with an opportunity to run with the first-team defense.

While Heyward’s minor injury could be one that simply keeps him out for half a practice—he’s expected to be able to resume activities today—it’s unclear when McLendon will be able to be cleared to return from his concussion.

If it’s not before Saturday’s game against the New York Giants, then it will only greater enhance the opportunities for the young defensive linemen to prove their worth. Tuitt, who has been running second-team left end all offseasos, would likely start, with Thomas running at nose.

But the Steelers will also want to see Thomas playing end as well, given that he’s expected to begin the year on the left side, which means that we could potentially see one of the young nose tackles rotated in with the first-team defense as well.

It will be a good opportunity to gauge the current state of the Steelers’ defensive line depth, which has been radically reconstructed over the past two seasons.

About the Author

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

    I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the DL in the game Ssturday night. It will be interesting to see who steps up from them young guys. McCullers? Mauro? Hemer? Famgupo? Philon? Someone needs to separate themselves from the pack.

  • Steelers12328882

    Me too. Would love to see a Tuitt/McCullers/Arnfelt combination.

  • falconsaftey43

    In the battle between Fang and McCullers, should age come into play at all? Fang has a good 7 years or so on McCullers. Might opt to keep the young gun.

  • dgh57

    Yes, if McCullers show a knack for blocking FGs and swatting passes his age will be the icing on the cake so to speak for him to make the 53 man roster.

  • cp72

    Tuitt was the best defensive lineman I watched his sophomore year other than Clowney. Him being banged up his junior year might have been the best thing that happened for us.

  • steeltown

    Really want to see this DLine play in an actual game. For better or worse I cant wait! Let’s put something on film!

  • steeltown

    Indeed

  • Paul R

    what about Heyward?

  • Aric Brown

    I believe hes talking about seeing the combo beyond the first quarter in the preseasom

  • Steelers12328882

    Yeah just strictly talking young guys like the original post I responded to.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    I think they have a pretty good future with all of the young DL. it will definitely be one of the more difficult cut downs when they set the 53-man roster. I’m sure there will be at least one, maybe two DL on the practice squad. The worst thing that could happen is that Heyward gets hurt. He is definitely one of the guys they cannot afford to lose this season.

  • cp72

    Yeah putting that monster in the middle on field goals might be the difference between winning and losing a game.

  • Toddy Bravo

    Agree 100%. I get chills when I think about how good our D-line can be for the next 8-10 years. Add to that a young, hungry LB corps with all their pedigree and our front 7 has the potential to be epic…dynasty caliber. Yea, I said it. :)

  • Matt Manzo

    I’m hoping McCullers can wrestle that spot from Fangupo! Maybe McCullers playing on the FG blocking unit will tip those scales. So far in training camp it sounds like a draw between the two.

  • cencalsteeler

    True. And what do they say? Tie goes to the young pup.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I know it’s early, but at least one beat writer described McCullers as a “can’t cut” rookie. I hope he’s right. As a benefit, Fangupo still has practice squad eligibility and is probably much less likely to be picked up.

  • Bradley Campbell

    I think McCullers is going to be a terrible NT to tall leverage will always be a problem- that said I want him on the team. (situational football) His natural Position is DT ina 4-3. For us he kind of fits in better at DE if he can improve his movement skills a little.