Steelers' McLendon being pushed at nose tackle
The departure of nose tackle Casey Hampton left a huge gap on the Steelers' defensive front. For years, he disrupted the opposition's run game and collapsed the pocket to create a path to quarterbacks for blitzing linebackers.
The Steelers began training camp wondering if Steve McLendon could slide into the starting job. Or if they would have enough depth to ensure McLendon is physically fit during a possible playoff run.
McLendon will be the likely starter when the Steelers host Tennessee in the season opener Sept. 8. It's difficult to gauge McLendon's progress because he played only sparingly in the preseason opener against the New York Giants last Saturday.
McLendon expects to get more playing time when the Steelers travel to Washington to face the Redskins at FedEx Field on “Monday Night Football.”
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound McLendon doesn't appear to be bothered by the pressure of supplanting Hampton in the middle of a 3-4 defense ranked No. 1 the past two seasons, in part, because his predecessor has offered advice and encouragement.
“(Hampton) just told me to listen to (former backup Chris) Hoke and (defensive line coach John) Mitchell, and I'll be all right,” McLendon said. “If he sees that I've messed up, he'll tell me. Besides that, he doesn't get too much into football.”
McLendon is being pushed by Al Woods, Hebron Fangupo and second-year nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who recently came off the physically unable to perform list.
“It's all about competition,” McLendon said. “It's what we need to bring the best out of everybody.
“The only thing we can do — even the defensive ends — is play fast, play hard and play smart. We can be a great defense if we do those things.”
Mitchell and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau moved Woods from defensive end to add depth. Woods, who rotated mostly with Ta'amu against the Giants, had a productive game: six tackles, three assists, a sack and two tackles for losses.
“I need to get on that same level as the rest of those guys because if I get a chance to play there won't be a drop-off,” Woods said. “It's my chance to put my hands in the pile to contribute anyway I can. I'm trying to focus and not looking too far down the road. I'm really not worrying about the competition.”
While Woods was expected to perform better this preseason, Ta'amu seems to have rebounded from a troubled rookie season.
“I feel a lot better than I did last year,” said Ta'amu, who last fall pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and drunken driving. “I had no chance coming in at the weight I did. I can handle plays now because I can push through physically.
“Al and Steve are making plays, but I continue to fight to see where I'll finish at the end.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey is watching intently as the nose tackles battle for roster spots. After all, he has lined up opposite them every day at St. Vincent.
“Al and Steve learned a lot from Casey Hampton, and it makes practice hard going against good players,” Pouncey said.
McLendon attributed his improvement to facing Pouncey.
“I'm going against one of the best centers in the league,” McLendon said. “It's a constant battle between me and Pouncey. We are making each other better every day.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Defense tasked with stopping Graham
- Cosby show still planned for Heinz Hall
- Jury finds Rayshawn Williams guilty of first-degree murder
- Fire destroys Armstrong County tavern
- Pitt football notebook: Athletic department seeking fans’ input
- IUP student dies from injuries after he was pinned beneath car
- Monongahela paramedic dies in the line of duty
- Steelers realize that Brees-led Saints are always dangerous
- Car crashes into Cranberry store, no one injured
- Pirates star McCutchen marries in private ceremony
- Brentwood police chief to get nearly $200,000 as part of settlement agreement with borough