By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Steve McLendon has spent time on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad, as well as the 53-man roster, but the 6-foot-4, 280-pound nose tackle appears to be ready to take that next step in his NFL career.
McLendon, officially entering his second season, is pushing 10-year veteran Chris Hoke for playing time as the backup to 11-year pro Casey Hampton at nose tackle. McLendon played in just seven games last season and recorded two tackles, but expect those numbers to improve considerably this year.
“Everything’s going pretty good for me this year,” McLendon said. “I feel real good, and I’m ready for whatever the coaches have in store for me. Wherever they want me to play, I’ll do that. And I’ve played several different spots.
“I’ve gotten work on the nose, at end and in nickel (as a pass-rusher). Wherever they see fit for me to play, that’s where I’ll go. So, I’ll just continue to work hard and … take one day at a time. That’s the best way for me to look at it.”
A product of Troy University in Alabama, McLendon appears to be buried on the depth chart behind proven performers like Hampton and Hoke, but if he gets an opportunity he’s more prepared to take advantage this season
“Being with the Steelers, it’s a great situation for me to learn from two great guys,” McLendon said. “And I’m thankful to have both Hamp and Hokie, because they both bring something different to the table.
“Casey brings a lot of power, but he’s also kind of quick. And Hokie is very smart. He’s very good in his technique, so it’s really great for me to learn from those two guys. And I’m thankful to have both those guys and Coach Mitch (Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell). He’s a terrific coach.”
Mitchell said that McLendon is progressing about how the Steelers expected, and he wouldn’t hesitate to put him in a game if the situation presents itself.
Depth Chart vs. Atlanta Falcons
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday that rookie Marcus Gilbert would start at left offensive tackle if regular starter Jonathan Scott (hyperextended right knee) can’t play. Scott has not practiced since being injured on the Steelers’ first offensive play against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday.
“(Gilbert) will get an opportunity against a top, quality player in John Abraham and others that they use over there,” Tomlin said. “(And) he and the other tackles will be presented with some high-quality challenges.
“(And that) is what you want you’re looking for at this time of year. (Gilbert) had a rocky beginning, like a lot of young guys have rocky beginnings. We’re pleased with what we’ve seen from him, but it must continue.”
Gilbert, who had replaced Scott, hyperextended his right knee as well on the final play of that opening drive against the Eagles. On that play, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a long touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Gilbert also missed 10 days in training camp with a hamstring injury, but finished strong.
“It’s a great opportunity to come in and show what I can do,” Gilbert said. “It’s going to feel like an actually regular-season game, (and) I’m going to be out there with the ones for the majority of the whole game. … Coming in here and learning the playbook pretty fast and trying to get a certain technique down and the footwork they teach at this level was pretty tough.
“I was trying to play catch-up to it, and then I got hurt. (And) I’m really comfortable now, but at the beginning it was kind of rocky trying to rush through it. As a rookie, we were at a disadvantage coming in and not learning the playbook, but luckily we have a good set of older guys on the offensive line who worked with me. I think they have full confidence in me now.”
Tomlin noted that Tony Hills will get a second straight start at right guard. He opened there against the Eagles, but had to play left tackle after Scott and Gilbert were injured. The starters will play at least a half, but it’s a good bet that Gilbert and Hills will go much longer.
Tomlin said that he has not decided who will play after starter Roethlisberger and backup Byron Leftwich get their snaps.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians also was uncertain of the other tight ends after starter Heath Miller and backup David Johnson. Arians said Johnson is the definitive No. 2, and he has no concern about him blocking on the line or as an H-back. And his pass-catching ability is improving.
Notes: The only player ruled out this week is CB Ike Taylor (left thumb surgery), while a handful are questionable: CB Cortez Allen (hamstring), WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring), ILB Mario Harvey (quad), CB Bryan McFadden (right hamstring, quad) and OT Scott (hyperextended right knee).