Next up in a series that looks at every position on offense and defense with training camp approaching, it's the Steelers' nose tackles.
Returning starter: Steve McLendon. The former undrafted free agent admittedly struggled with the expectations that came with replacing five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton last season. McLendon seems more sure of himself, adding 20 pounds to deal with the physical demands of playing nose tackle.
New faces: Daniel McCullers and Al Lapuaho. The mammoth McCullers was the second of the Steelers’ two sixth-round draft picks. Lapuaho signed with the Steelers in January after spending part of last season on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad.
On the bubble: McCullers. The 6-7, 352-pound man-child has to beat out Hebron Fangupo, who spent all of last season on the 53-man roster, and don’t count out Lapuaho. Starting defensive end Cameron Heyward said Lapuaho really stood out during offseason practices.
By the numbers: The 115.6 rushing yards per game that the Steelers yielded last season were the most since they gave up 122.4 rushing yards per game in 1999.
Did you know: McLendon has incorporated ballet in his training since he took a dance class at Troy. McLendon said he doesn’t do as much ballet as he used to but that it is still part of his regimen.
Quotable: “I can't be down there at 310 [pounds], trying to play a spot where guys are 330-plus. I need to be heavy just like them and be able to move faster and quicker than them.” -- McLendon on why he added weight during the offseason.
Outlook: McLendon still has to prove that he is the long-term answer at nose tackle, but he appears to be in a much better position to play well this season, both from a physical and mental standpoint. He could also stay on the field during some passing downs, providing an inside rush with Heyward when the Steelers go to their nickel defense. Fangupo played sparingly last season, but the Steelers’ coaches know what they have in him. Anything the Steelers get from McCullers is a bonus, as the Tennessee product may need a season on the practice squad before he is ready to contribute.