With Casey Hampton coming off knee surgery and likely to begin the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, the Pittsburgh Steelers have enough confidence in Steve McLendon that he could be their starting nose tackle come Week 1.
"Everybody wants to discard McLendon. Let me tell you this, hold your opinion until the season is over," Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell recently said, via Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I'm just saying keep your opinion until after the season, (then) you make the decision."
Undrafted out of Troy in 2009, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound McLendon spent his first season on the Steelers' practice squad before appearing in 21 games over the past two seasons. McLendon has 15 tackles and one sack in fewer than 200 total plays.
Earlier this offseason, the Steelers restructured Hampton's contract, cutting his base salary by over $2 million and eliminating a $1 million workout bonus. The Steelers also used a fourth-round pick on University of Washington defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu, but he is changing positions and is unable to participate in the OTAs because his school operates on the "quarters" system. McLendon said his opportunity to earn a starting job began when he earned the team's trust.
"That comes from trust," McLendon said. "That trust comes from doing everything right. You are not going to be perfect, but (Mitchell) saw that I came in day in and day out with my lunch pail and I was ready to work. Coach Mitch knows that I know my stuff."