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Steelers rookie McCullers proving he's no pushover

| Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 10:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers (left) practices Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers practices Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers goes against center Maurkice Pouncey during practice Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Latrobe.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers (74) makes a tackle during practice Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Latrobe.

Daniel McCullers could be another rookie whose time might come sooner rather than later.

McCullers played better than some expected during the Steelers' 20-16 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday. The 6-foot-7, 352-pound defensive lineman probably will get a longer look during training camp, mostly because nose tackle Steve McLendon was slowed by concussions last week.

“When Steve went down, the coaches wanted me to show what I have,” McCullers said after Monday's practice at St. Vincent. “I think I did pretty good overall. For most of the plays, I held up the linemen to let the linebackers make plays.

“I was just trying to run around and make plays. I have to adjust to the speed. That is the biggest thing. It was a huge difference when I first got out there. It hit me for a second, but I adjusted.”

McLendon sat out the preseason opener but returned to practice Thursday. He is expected to share duty with McCullers when the Steelers host the Buffalo Bills on Saturday at Heinz Field.

When asked if he doubts he'll be able to handle the more physical play in the NFL, McCullers responded, “No.”

The Tennessee product experienced some challenges. At times, he was out of position to defend the run. He countered by using his power and size to help seal run gaps, particularly after Rashard Jennings sprinted through the middle of the defense for a 73-yard, first-quarter score.

“I was out there working hard,” he said. “Learning the system is the big thing for (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau. I've got to take the time to study and learn the keys. I feel once I do that, I'll be pretty good.”

McCullers has needed words of encouragement during training camp. But assistant coaches remind him to keep his head up. On Thursday, he kept grinding as he dueled with center Maurkice Pouncey and guard Cody Wallace.

“Dan is a big body who's not going to get pushed around,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “He's got lots of potential, but now we're working on seeing that potential.

“He can hold his weight, but in our defense you have to be responsible. We need guys who can play from the head up. It's about understanding the little things like having all the gaps filled. If he doesn't play in games the way he practices, then you're not getting the most out of him.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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