Can Dan McCullers stick around for Season No. 5 with Steelers?
At 6 feet 7 and more than 350 pounds, it can’t be easy to go unnoticed. But somehow, Daniel McCullers has slid under the radar to stick with the Pittsburgh Steelers for what is now heading into his fifth season.
That means he’s past the average career length for an NFL player, fully vested into the league’s pension and now tied for the third-longest tenured Steelers defensive player (only Vince Williams and Cameron Heyward have been with the team longer).
“I think about it a lot; a lot of guys don’t make it five years,” said McCullers, a sixth-round pick of the Steelers in 2014. “So the coaches see something in me, and they want me to go out there and play hard and be a great player. So that’s what I am going to continue to work on and try to do.”
Steelers coaches must see something in McCullers – they never cut him (or even so much as put him on the practice squad) in his 4 ½ years with the organization, and two weeks into free agency in March, they re-signed him to a one-year contract .
That was an almost-stunning move after McCullers played all of 13 defensive snaps last season and appeared in only five games.
Even though the Steelers played a handful of run-first teams (where a space-eating nose tackle would theoretically be advantageous), McCullers would sit. Even in the meaningless regular-season finale when many starters sat, McCullers mostly sat.
McCullers acknowledges he was anything but certain the Steelers were going to re-sign him this spring.
“I am happy to be back,” he said. “It’s a great organization to be a part of, the Steelers are one of a kind. So it’s just another opportunity to get out here and show what I can do and try to make the team.”
McCullers has been running mostly with the second-team defense at camp – at least when the package calls for a nose tackle. That’s not as often as it used to be, particularly this summer when they have been experimenting with the “dollar” seven-defensive-backs look.
A player his size isn’t going to radically adjust his game, but for what it’s worth McCullers said he’s trimmed a few pounds off his frame and declares himself “a little quicker.”
“The big thing is to get in the best shape possible so I can go out there and play multiple plays,” McCullers said.
With established starters in Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Cameron Heyward, proven reserves in Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton, rookies Joshua Frazier and Greg Gilmore (and others) added to the mix and others on the defensive line, McCullers would appear to have an uphill climb to stick around for a fifth season with the Steelers.
Then again, the same perhaps could have been said to varying degrees during each of the previous four camps – and McCullers persevered the whole time.
In other words, count out Big Dan at your own peril.
“I’m just continuing to work on my technique, my craft,” McCullers said. “I know what I’m doing out there; it’s just a matter of showing I can make plays, and hopefully I’m capable of making the team.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.