Hall of Famer
Steve McLendon primed for bigger role?
PITTSBURGH -- Cameron Heyward may have provided a glimpse earlier this week into a subtle yet significant shift that appears to be taking place in the Steelers’ defensive philosophy.
When asked if nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme has become devalued with teams playing more nickel or dime than their base defense, Heyward said, “The nose tackle position is vital. I think it’s the most critical position on our defense in the run.”
OK, no news flash there.
Then Heyward added this: “I think our nose tackles have to be ready to play in sub package this year.”
If that is the case then Steve McLendon is primed for a bigger role in 2014, not a reduced one.
And he could become a three-down player, staying in the game with Heyward when the Steelers replace a lineman with an extra defensive back.
The nose tackle has traditionally come off the field when the Steelers employ a fifth defensive back in their nickel defense. But it makes sense if the Steelers are planning to keep McLendon in the game on some passing downs for several reasons.
McLendon has shown flashes as far as putting pressure on the quarterback and the Steelers want to generate more of an inside pass rush in 2014. McLendon and Heyward, who tied for second on the Steelers with five sacks last season, could make a good pairing as the inside pass-rushers in the nickel defense.
Also, the Steelers don’t have a lot of options after McLendon.
There is no clear-cut starter at defensive end opposite Heyward and the plan – at least for now – may look something like this:
Play Cam Thomas at end when the Steelers are in their base defense and have him and McLendon rotate at tackle when the Steelers go to the nickel.
Find depth among second-year players Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams as well as the defensive ends that the Steelers draft next week and sign as undrafted free agents.
That, of course, is speculation at this point, and the Steelers’ plan could change depending on the players they add through the draft -- or in free agency by bringing back veteran defensive end Brett Keisel for one more season.
But one thing that seems clear is that the Steelers’ nose tackles won’t just be asked to stop the run in 2014.
“Steve can rush, Cam can rush,” Heyward said, “and we’re looking for them to add more to this defense.”
For an increased role, McLendon has to improve from last season to this year. He is still young, so I would not rule it out, but the player who was on the field last year was not capable of getting the job done.
We should have a better idea of how the team feels after the draft, and for sure after the beginning of OTAs. They said that they view Thomas as a DE, but let us see how he first lines up on D. As for the draft, what happens if they have a shot at Nix, Jernigan, or Tuitt in the second. Will they pass multiple times on players like McCullers, Ellis, Carrethers, or Kerr - who would be more typical, Hampton-like, NTs?
There seems to be a disconnect from Heyward to most others as far as how McLendon is doing, will do, etc. In places I read how SM stunk it up last year. In others, it seems the team (or is it just Heyward?) think SM will end up being a very good NT. Many fans and writers feel he was one of the worst starting 3-4 NT in the entire NFL. There seems to be a wide spread on evaluating how good SM is and will be.
The run D was #2 in the league in 2012. That year Hampton and McClendon split time. The team was actually better against the run with McClendon on the field. Last year because of the injury to Foote, ineptness of Hood and the age of Keisel they went from a 2 DL set of 335 plays in 2012 to 654 plays in 2013. That's why the run defense suffered. They didn't put up as much beef. They went smaller and faster. I think McClendon will be fine at NG but they need more out of the LILB and the LDE so they can get back into more traditional sets.
I think he is a better 3-4 DE than a NT. I say draft Nix in the second if he is there and move McL to DE.
Originally Posted by steeler_fan_in_t.o.
Nobody knows if ML can play DE. Even when Hood was stinking up the field last year on 3rd downs (2 DL set) they sat ML. I'm not sure he's ever played DE. So not sure how you can think he is a better DE when he's never played it or has played it sparingly. Reminds me of everyone wanting to move all of the CBs to safety and all the tackles to guards.
Originally Posted by Shawn
Hall of Famer
The guy is one of the strongest on the team. No reason he cant make a good NT or DE. However, we need someone that can command a double team from time to time to play the middle.
Maybe...but it fits what he does. He is a penetrator not an anchor. And we both know these coaches don't always know what position is best for a player...ie Worilds. Not to mention how long they let a beast like Heyward sit.
Originally Posted by Vader
He doesn't play the strongest. He doesn't anchor well or call for double teams in the middle. We need a Hampton. As much flack as he got...this D has sorely missed his presence.
Originally Posted by SteelCrazy
Our ends aren't penetrators either. Like I said before, the team went to a 2 man line a ton last year and he was off the field because Evander "Yes, these idiots took me in the first round" Hood was a better option at DE. A DE in a 3-4 have to hold their positions as well. They aren't get up the field pass rushers or gap shooting DE. Mclendon wasn't the problem last year against the run. Which is why people are talking about expanding his role.
Originally Posted by Shawn
I don't understand the Heyward comment. Heyward played in 2012 and wasn't good. Would you sit Keisel or Hood (another guy people would bitch about sitting) to play Heyward when he wasn't doing anything?
Worilds played LOLB before last year. Everybody talks about how Woodley missed so much time... who do you think took his place? Yup, the great Worilds. He was average at it. He played 8 very good games this year and the Steelers are paying him a boat load for 8 games. BTW Worilds would have had more time if he weren't injured EVERY year that he has been in the league.