It’s now or never for some Steelers

August 15, 2014
Steelers tight end Eric Waters breaks free from Bills defensive end Manny Lawson during a practice earlier this week in Latrobe. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Earlier this week, head coach Mike Tomlin told his team that it’s time for players to make their move if they hope to be on the Steelers’ final 53-man roster.

Tomlin reminded players who are currently lining up with the third team or lower on the depth chart that NFL teams don’t generally have room on their rosters for a third team.

You’re either a starter, a backup or gone.

Tomlin will be looking to see who makes a move when the Steelers host the Buffalo Bills today (7:30 p.m.) at Heinz Field in their second preseason game.

The Steelers and Bills spent two days this week holding practices at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, giving both teams an extended look at what they’ll face tonight.

Tomlin came away from the joint practices impressed with Buffalo’s front seven, which includes Pro Bowl linemen Mario and Kyle Williams (no relation) and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Buffalo had 57 sacks last year, 41 of which came from the defensive linemen.

“They’ve got some young people and some seasoned talent. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams are seasoned, veteran players,” Tomlin said. “And they’ve got a good set of linebackers, guys like (Brandon) Spikes, who have good play demeanor and pride themselves in stopping the run.”

One player the Bills will have to deal with is massive Steelers rookie Daniel McCullers, all 6-7, 352 pounds of him.

A sixth-round draft pick, McCullers has been one of the pleasant surprises in training camp. Known as “Big Dan” to his teammates, McCullers is easy to pick out in a crowd, even among NFL players.

Despite his massive size, McCullers has shown good movement at training camp and in the Steelers’ first preseason game, when he played 22 snaps. Hebron Fanguopo, a nose tackle currently listed ahead of McCullers on the depth chart and behind starter Steve McLendon, played only eight snaps.

“I’m asked to hold up the linemen and make the linebackers get the plays,” said McCullers, who played collegiately at Tennessee. “I felt I did a pretty good job of that.

“I’ve never heard I couldn’t play. I’m just going to keep working because I know I can be a great player once I get my technique and keys down.”

The Steelers like McCullers’ progression and feel he could be the team’s nose tackle of the future, despite not exactly fitting in the classic size mold of a player such as Casey Hampton, who manned the position for more than 10 years.

Hampton (6-1, 330) was built like a bowling ball with legs, decidedly different from McCullers.

Hampton played with leverage. McCullers is a brick wall.

“He’s doing a nice job of working at techniques and getting better from an assignment standpoint,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, he’s got a distinguishing characteristic. He’s an enormous man, one who’s difficult to move. He’s proven that he’s more than that. He likes to play football. I like the progress he’s making but he has some progress ahead of him.”

Tomlin hopes his team makes significant progress from last week’s loss.

“I’m more concerned about how we do that than what our next tape looks like,” he said. “I think we got a legitimate opportunity for guys to take a significant step between Game 1 and Game 2.”

Odds and end zones

The Steelers are expected to play most of their starters well into the second quarter. … The Steelers have lost five consecutive preseason games. … Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who missed the first preseason game with a bruised knee, is expected to start. ... The Steelers will hold 50-50 raffles at all home games with proceeds benefitting the United Way. The winning ticket will be announced during the game and a list of winners will be posted on for 30 days after each game. The winner does not need to be present to claim the prize.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

View More from this Author



blog comments powered by Disqus