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Steelers NT McLendon wants to be full-time threat

| Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The Steelers' Steve McLendon celebrates a defensive play against the Browns on December 2012 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Steve McLendon celebrates a defensive play against the Browns on December 2012 at Heinz Field.

Don't get Steve McLendon wrong — he's quite happy taking over for Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton.

But the undrafted free agent out of Troy wants more … much more.

McLendon wouldn't mind sliding over to defensive end on third downs when the Steelers are in their nickel package in order to showcase something a 3-4 nose tackle shouldn't be able to do — rush the passer.

“I tell them not to take that pass rush from me because I can do that, I can rush the passer,” McLendon said. “I tell (defensive line coach John Mitchell) that all the time, but he won't let me.”

It's possible McLendon just isn't beating the right ear. Maybe he needs to step up a level of management to be heard?

“If he shows that he is capable of us helping us through three downs, I'll utilize him,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “So tell him I said that.”

Actually, the Steelers are more interested in McLendon being able to use his 320-pound frame on first and second downs to stop the run rather than chase the quarterback.

Still, McLendon dropped 15 pounds from a season ago in order to have the opportunity to stay on the field on all downs.

“I don't want to be good, I want to be great,” he said. “And great players don't come off the field.”

McLendon showed enough promise last year in his limited opportunities to allow the Steelers to part ways with Hampton after 12 seasons. And he showed enough that when Green Bay expressed interest in the restricted free agent in April that the Steelers quickly responded with a three-year, $7.5 million deal for the 27-year-old.

“Steve has a lot of potential,” veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said. “He's a good, hardworking kid who comes to work ready to work every day.”

Despite being lauded by Mitchell before last year, McLendon didn't see the field a lot. He averaged a little more than eight snaps per game, which included a six-game span in the middle of the season when he averaged five.

Still, he was able to make plays when given the opportunities.

“We've seen flashes of him making big plays,” Keisel said. “It will be great to see it on a regular basis.”

McLendon had two fewer quarterback pressures and two more sacks than Hampton despite playing in 370 fewer snaps.

McLendon didn't let the lack of opportunities bother him. In fact, he believes sitting behind Hampton will do nothing but help him.

“This is what I've learned here because I have seen it — we all have roles,” McLendon said. “They groom you just like a baby. When you come into this defense, you are an infant. You don't know anything. The three or four yearsyou are in this defense (when) you aren't playing are the most valuable.

McLendon did a lot of learning over the past couple of years — that is when he was on the roster. The Steelers signed or released McLendon 11 times over a span of his first 18 months in the league.

“Nobody probably believed in me, but I believed in myself,” he said. “I knew I could do it … actually, I knew I was going to do it. I never had a doubt that I was going to be a starter. My uncle told me that if I am going play football in the NFL that you aren't taking that field just to take the field. He said take that field to become a star.”

And if it is up to McLendon, he would never come off the field.

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