Steelers' McLendon steps up as No. 1 nose tackle

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What do you do when you combine nose tackles Casey Hampton, Jay Ratliff and Chris Hoke?

"You get the typical Steve McLendon," Steve McLendon said.

Meet the Steelers' new starting nose tackle. If you thought the old one who held that job the past 12 years played with confidence and candor, wait until you hear Hampton's successor.

"If y'all want to know the typical Steve McLendon, I can tell you," he instructed. "The typical Steve McLendon is I want to be powerful and strong like Casey, I want to be smart like Chris Hoke, and I want to be quick and fast like Jay Ratliff of the [Dallas] Cowboys."

Hampton made five Pro Bowls and Ratliff four as two of the best nose tackles in the league.

"Isn't that always the goal?" McLendon asked Tuesday after the team's fourth spring practice. "You don't come out here just to be a secondary guy. You come out here to be the greatest, that's how I look at it.

"I changed my whole my way of thinking this year. I'm no longer saying 'good,' I'm saying 'great' because if you speak greatness, greatness will come."

And why can't it come for McLendon?

Born in Ozark, Ala., he played at Troy and came to the Steelers in 2009 the same way James Harrison did, as an undrafted free agent.

He has it all over Harrison, though, because McLendon was cut four times by the Steelers -- once in 2009 and three times in 2010. He became a footnote in 2010 when he was released to make room for Ben Roethlisberger's return to the roster after his four-game NFL suspension. He also was cut once from the practice squad.

McLendon made steady progress, took over for the retired Hoke as Hampton's backup last season and now the job is his, along with a new three-year contract worth $7.25 million. His new deal came one day after he paid Green Bay a visit in April as a restricted free agent. The Packers were prepared to sign him.

Going undrafted and cut four times has motivated him "not a little bit, a lot."

"The only thing you can do is wear it like a coat, keep it on your shoulder, humble yourself. That's when you become successful, when you humble yourself, remember those things and push forward from those things."

At 27, McLendon has a chance to become an overnight sensation.

"Opportunities sometimes like this for a guy like myself are hard to come by," McLendon said. "That's why I have to play fast, play harder, play smarter, and just play with the gift God gave me."

McLendon played in 139 defensive snaps in 2012 behind Hampton's 503. According to ratings compiled by Pro Football Focus, Hampton had a minus-9.4 while McLendon had a plus-7.0 ranking, fifth best among Steelers defenders in 2012.

There is a difference, however, in playing 139 snaps vs. 600, and McLendon knows that.

"When you want to be an every-down guy, you have to be in better shape," McLendon said. "You just have to look at everything differently.

"This team has been built on greatness for so long.

"If you go upstairs, you've seen [photos on the office walls of] the guys who were here, they did great things. That's the look I'm looking at. I'm not coming here just to be good, I want to be great."

The Steelers still list McLendon at 280 pounds as they did before they cut him the first time.

He laughed about the discrepancy of 30 pounds or so, but said, "leave it at 280; that's what's going to fool everybody."

While he has gained weight over the past four years, he claims never to have prepared differently.

"I already prepared like a starter since Day 1. Even when I was getting cut, I still prepared like I was a starter. If you put yourself in the mindset of being a starter, one day you will be a starter. I never came in here thinking I was going to be a backup."

He talks a lot with Hampton, whom he said still wants to play somewhere this year. He continues to take advice from his mentor, who told him to "Remember to be humble, stay strong, stay firm in what you believe in, and, most important of all, just play football. It's still a game."

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For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at Ed Bouchette: and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published May 29, 2013 4:30 AM


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