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Steelers

Steelers nose tackle McCullers finds performance, fitness go hand in hand

| Friday, May 29, 2015, 10:03 p.m.
Steelers defensive tackle Daniel McCullers works out during organized team activities Wednesday, May 27, 2015, on Pittsburgh's South Side.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive tackle Daniel McCullers works out during organized team activities Wednesday, May 27, 2015, on Pittsburgh's South Side.

Dan McCullers didn't go on a fad diet, or take part in an intense seven-day-a-week workout regimen during the offseason.

It wasn't until McCullers returned to the Steelers' practice facility in early April for the start of offseason workouts that he realized something was different about himself and that was because of the constant barrage of comments.

“Everybody kept telling me that I looked good,” McCullers said. “I was like, ‘OK, but I don't know what I did.' ”

The Steelers didn't, either.

There was no offseason mandate by the Steelers for the 6-foot-7 nose tackle, then at 365 pounds, to lose weight. There was no targeted effort by McCullers to slim down, either.

It just happened because, as McCullers put it, for the first time in his life, “I was eating right and sweating every day.”

It took 22 years, but McCullers finally got it. No more soda, Doritos and video-game binges like in high school and college. He was a professional athlete, and to have a chance of reaching his potential it was time to take care of his body.

“I learned last year that it's a long season and you have to take care of your body,” McCullers said.

McCullers lost 15 pounds and said, that at his current weight of 350, he felt a difference the first week of organized team activities.

“Especially when I am stretching,” McCullers said. “I lift up my legs and they aren't as heavy.”

McCullers has struggled with his weight his entire life. He was more than 400 pounds in high school because of bad eating habits and a sedentary existence.

Even though he was athletic for a big man, his weight limited him on the football field.

After a year in the NFL, McCullers knew that his lifestyle wasn't an option.

“When you get around the older guys, you kind of figure things out and how serious people are about taking care of you body,” Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones said.

Fellow nose tackle Steve McLendon said it is a different mentality players adopt from the first year to the second after seeing how NFL players approach their profession.

“He understands it a little more and he wants to be in shape, and he took that upon himself to do that,” McLendon said.

McCullers is hoping that his offseason weight loss will result in more playing time.

McCullers, the Steelers' sixth-round pick out of Tennessee in 2014, spent the first half of his rookie season as a game-day inactive before playing the final nine games, including a start against the Titans.

“I was wondering how I was going to fit in and learn the system and the speed of the game,” McCullers said. “Having one year under my belt, I kind of learned a lot and know what to expect.”

McCullers played only 82 snaps and registered two tackles, but the potential is there — at least according to his teammates.

Jones: “It's going to be fun watching Big Dan.”

Lawrence Timmons: “He's going to fun to watch.”

Antwon Blake: “The sky is the limit for him.”

McCullers is listed behind McLendon on the depth chart at nose tackle, but the big man's strength and athleticism has the Steelers excited about the player he can develop into.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell said last month he expects McCullers to be able to play nose tackle and then be able to be on the field in their nickel packages.

“I don't care how big you are, if you're not in shape and you can't do it, it's not OK,” Mitchell said. “It's not OK with me. I'm not going to pass him along because that guy can help us win football games and he knows how to be a good football player on this level.”

McCullers said every part of his game needs to improve, from his feet to his hands to his technique.

However, his biggest challenge coming out of college is getting better. McCullers has gotten better at keeping that 6-7 frame low off the ball.

“I feel that if I continue to work hard and do what I need to do that I will get playing time,” McCullers said. “Coach Mitch likes me as a player and thinks I can be a great one.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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