Steve McLendon was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009; that year he made it all the way to the final day of cuts, but failed to make the 53-man roster and was signed to the practice squad. In 2010, it happened again; on the last day of cuts McLendon was waived and signed to the practice squad.
However, in 2010 he earned some time on the active roster and even recovered a fumble against the Tennessee Titans. However, in 2011, due to injuries to verteran defensive lineman Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke, McLendon finally got his shot. He played well as the primary back-up at nose tackle behind Casey Hampton. When Hampton tore his ACL in the Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos the question became: who would take over for Hampton as the nose tackle of the future?
Then the Steelers drafted Alameda Ta’amu in the 2012 NFL Draft and fans had their answer. Hopefully Hampton would have one last year left which would allow Ta’amu to learn and develop. Following the 2012 season nose tackle would be Ta’amu’s position. Well, Steve McLendon still has something to say about that scenario.
McLendon was listed at 280 pounds last season although he was over 300 pounds. Many fans took his listed weight to mean he couldn’t be a nose tackle, but Hampton is a huge supporter of McLendon and is here to let fans know that McLendon is not a small guy:
“Everybody thinks McLendon is a small dude. He is a big, strong guy. He can be dominant,” said Hampton.
When McLendon was asked what he weighed at the start of training camp he answered “Three twenty-five.” Willie Colon also has a false listed weight of 315 (he’s closer to 345) and Hampton is listed at 325 (we all know he is over 350).
So far during the 2012 training camp McLendon has been a standout. According to reporters at camp McLendon has dominated Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro multiple times. During Saturday’s goal line drill McLendon was a big part of the defenses 5-2 win. His goal line play included a behind the line tackle on a running play he completely blew up.
McLendon may still be learning, but he has a lot of experience and has worked very hard over the past three years to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. With Casey Hampton still out recovering from his torn ACL Mclendon finds himself atop the first depth chart. McLendon will anchor the Steelers defense when they take the field against the Eagles on Thursday in Philadelphia. It will be his first chance to prove to the coaches in a game situation that he deserves to start.
Although Hampton will likely win back the starting job once he is healthy the Steelers will still give reps to McLendon if he keeps up this kind of play. Ta’amu, who came into camp a bit out of shape, has not stood out so far (it’s still very early) and he is currently listed as McLendon’s back-up.
For three years McLendon was brought in to be a trianing camp body and given little to no chance of making the opening day roster, but as they say hard work does pay off. McLendon is proof of that statement and he may just be the nosetackle of the future in Pittsburgh.
So with the “Big Snack” (Casey Hampton) potentially entering his final season with the Steelers what are we to call his replacement?
“I call myself ‘The Work In Progress,’ ” McLendon said. “You have to train yourself for this. It has to do with muscle memory, repetitions, mental reps; it’s hard work. You can’t just wake up and be a beast of a nosetackle.”