Instead of droning on and on about a Prima-donna pass-catcher currently playing a losing game of “chicken” with the Steelers’ Front Office, I thought it would be nice to focus on the positives and talk about some guys which appear to want to play this season. Entering Training Camp 2012, one of the biggest question marks which faced the Steelers was the uncertainty at the Nose Tackle position. Veteran Pro Bowler Casey Hampton is likely be shelved for an extended period due to his knee injury, and veteran Chris Hoke retired this past offseason.
Due to the franchise’s pressing need for a 0-Technique solution in the short and long terms, the Steelers drafted massive Alameda Ta’amu in the 4th Round of April’s Draft. And while Ta’amu figures to be the Nose Tackle of the future for this Defense, he is not projected to be the starter when the regular season begins. Why you may ask? Well that is because the Steelers already appear to have a short-term answer at the position: Steve McLendon, the former 2009 UDFA from Troy.
McLendon & The 2012 Preseason
Now bulked up (6’4″ 325 lbs. from 280 lbs.), McLendon has his best chance to make the most of his opportunity for extended playing time with the 2010 1st and 2nd stringers unable to play. And if McLendon’s continued development from 2009-2011 and his performance against the Eagles were any indication, the Steelers might have found themselves a terrific stop-gap at the position, and at the very worst, a terrific backup at the 0-Technique for years to come.
In Thursday’s game versus Philadelphia, McLendon had himself a fine 1st Half with the 1st-Team Defensive unit, and was arguably the most impressive Steelers player that night. Overall, McLendon made 3 Tackles, 1 For Loss, and 1.0 Sack on Michael Vick as the Steelers took a 13-0 lead into Half Time. For his efforts, McLendon was named the Steelers Digest Player of the Week according to Bob Labriola on the Steelers’ team website.
As I alluded to before, this will be a big season for McLendon as his only competition for playing time early on will be the Rookie Ta’amu. Coming off of a season where he racked up 13 Tackles and 1.0 Sack in limited reps behind Hampton and Hoke, the stage will be set for McLendon to have a career season at the 0-Technique. In addition, a fine performance in 2012 could really help McLendon as he will be a Restricted Free Agent after the season, and any indication that he will be a fixture on the 53-man roster for years to come should boost his RFA tender heading into 2013.
I will be rooting for McLendon this season as he has a golden opportunity to become yet another UDFA “diamond in the rough” found by the Steelers scouting department, developed by the Coaching Staff (most notably D-Line Coach John Mitchell), and succeeding due to his own hard work. Because “Snack” is shelved and likely has only a year or two tops “left in the tank,” and Ta’amu likely to go through a year or two development process, the starting job is now McLendon’s to lose for the time being. Thus, a strong preseason showing will make him a fixture in Pittsburgh (or elsewhere in the N.F.L.) for years to come.
While it was only one preseason game, it was at least nice to see one of the Steelers’ players take advantage of his extended work with the 1st team unit. There are three more games left to go, and three more chances are left for McLendon to nail down a starting job and continue his solid development from raw and unheralded UDFA, to solid starting professional.
Stats Courtesy of: ESPN.com