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Steelers' Daniel McCullers is on the rise

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Daniel McCullers did not record a tackle during his NFL debut last Monday night but his brute strength was impossible to miss in the third quarter.

McCullers drove Chris Myers back about five yards on a pass play and the 6-foot-7, 352-pounder so overpowered the Houston Texans center that Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward didn’t have to review film of the Steelers’ 30-23 win for the play to jump out at him.

“I remember seeing that close up,” Heyward said. “And the thing I love about it is he’s wearing down these centers so if I have to go against them, they’re tired. I’m telling you once Dan starts really using that body nobody can block him.”

McCullers’ sheer size makes him an intriguing long-term prospect at nose tackle where the Steelers are still searching for a worthy heir to five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.

And McCullers is playing sooner than expected because of an injury to starting nose tackle Steve McLendon -- and the reality that the Steelers need some mass up front with teams rushing for an average of 114.1 yards per game against them.

McCullers played 10 snaps against the Texans but Cam Thomas, who started in place of McLendon, only logged 18 of them with the Steelers playing nickel much more than their base defense.

Assuming McLendon is out for at least another week it will be interesting to see how the Steelers split snaps on Sunday between Thomas and McCullers -- and how much of base defense they play against the high-powered Indianapolis Colts.

McCullers, the second of two sixth-round picks that the Steelers made in May, said his play against the Texans boosted his confidence. The fact that Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ran right past McCullers as he was driving Myers backwards in the third quarter is part of his learning process.

Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell, who stays on McCullers constantly, pointed out during the film review of the game how McCullers lost sight of the quarterback. Heyward, meanwhile, said the Steelers are trying to “pull out” a nasty streak in the soft-spoken McCullers.

“If I use my hands and stay low I’m not worried about a nasty streak,” McCullers said. “That’s not me.”

The player known as "Big Dan" at Steelers headquarters understands what his teammates and coaches are trying to do as far as motivating him.

“They see it in me that I can be a great player,” McCullers said.

Getting McCullers to that point will only help players like Heyward, who would benefit greatly from playing next to a nose tackle who demands constant double-teams.

“He’s built like the Marcus Strouds, the John Hendersons that (rarely) come around,” Heyward said. “Dan can be a really good player in this league. We’re just waiting for him to decide.”