- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Steve McLendon certainly looks like a nose tackle as he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 320 pounds.

Yet those looks are deceiving.

Turns out, McLendon can run, quite agile for a big man. In fact, the Pittsburgh Steeler filled in well at end last Sunday for injured Stephon Tuitt in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“He killed it,” Tuitt said of McLendon. “It was awesome to see him play the way he played. It was great to know another defensive lineman could come in and do the things that he was doing up front and overall.”

McLendon did not wow from a statistical standpoint as he made just two solo tackles. However, he played well enough that he likely will see more action at end Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, though the Steelers are hopeful Tuitt can play after missing two games with a knee injury.

“He was strong on the run more than he was a pass rusher, but that comes with time,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “For it being his first week, I thought he played pretty good. He can give us another rotation guy at end.”

McLendon says he feels comfortable at end because he played the position during practices since the Steelers drafted him in the sixth round last year.

“I’ve always been a big believer that you play the way you practice,” McLendon said Thursday. “I’ve always taken practices seriously because I feel the more prepared you are, the easier things will come during the game.

“Even before (Tuitt) got hurt, I’d get maybe one, two, three reps at end in practice. It helped. It made me feel more comfortable. I felt prepared. I felt like I knew exactly what I was supposed to do in the game.”

There is a different mindset playing end than nose tackle, where the responsibilities are more geared to stopping the run and engaging multiple blockers in order to give the edge rushers freedom to rush the passer.

McLendon has yet to get a sack in 14 career games. However, Heyward believes McLendon has enough quickness to put pressure on the quarterback, but needs to become comfortable playing in the nickel defense after logging most of his playing time in basic sets.

“I think he understands that he can be more disruptive,” Heyward said. “It’s just about feeling yourself in nickel. It’s a little bit different from base defense to nickel defense. You’re going to get more opportunities to rush and you have to make sure you take advantage of those.”

The Steelers believe McLendon will continue to improve. That is why he moved to end last week after reserve DE Cam Thomas struggled in place of Tuitt on Oct. 25 in a loss at Kansas City.

Coach Mike Tomlin also liked the way backup Daniel McCullers performed at nose tackle last week after moving into the lineup with the shift of McLendon.

“I thought they both did some good things, particularly, in terms of getting push on the pocket,” Tomlin said. “That’s something that obviously concerns you when you’re losing a talented rusher like Stephon Tuitt. I thought both guys filled the bill, but filled it in a different way. They’re pocket pushers, as opposed to edge guys, but I thought both guys did a nice job in that area.”

NOTES: S Will Allen (ankle) was a full participant in practice for the first since being injured Oct. 12 in a win at San Diego, then missing the last three games. . WR Martavis Bryant (undisclosed illness) and WR Markus Wheaton (ankle) returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday. . LB Terence Garvin and TE Matt Speath did not practice because of knee injuries.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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