When Cameron Heyward was lost for the season in November with a torn pectoral muscle, those on the defensive line knew they had no choice but to step up their game.
It wasn't going to be one player who was going to step in and carry the load with the leader of the line out. It was going to be all hands on deck, because losing a player like Heyward was a blow for the line and the defense as a whole.
"It did hurt us not having that guy that can get pressure on the quarterback each and every play," said Vince Williams, who was among those who were asked to step up their game. "He gives his heart on each and every play, every down. That is the big thing you have on the field. When Cam gets healthy, we are going to be right back on the top."
While Heyward wasn't playing, he was around on a regular basis, helping younger teammates like McCullers, who will be entering his fourth season in 2017.
"He was always around throughout the week, helping give us tips," said McCullers. "On the field giving us technique help and what we can do to get better.
"It helped me grow. With him being hurt, it put me out there in the fire. It made me have to step up and be productive and help the team. Cam is a big part of the defense, one of the leaders, and when he went down all of the guys talked about it and stepped up."
McCullers had his most productive season to date in 2016, playing in all 16 regular season games with one start, and finishing with 17 tackles and one sack. But they are numbers that need to increase, numbers he needs to improve on, and he knows he has to work this offseason to get better in every aspect of his game.
"I want to continue to work on the fundamentals, my techniques, and the mental game," said McCullers. "That is a big part of the league. You have to make sure you are mentally right for that every game. I want to work on that. It can be tough at times, the mental part."
McCullers has some other areas he wants to focus on as well. And tops is dropping some weight. McCullers is listed at 6-7, 352 pounds, but feels if he could knock some of that weight off it would help him a lot.
"This offseason I am going to train hard, hopefully I am going to drop some weight," he said. "I feel like I can get down and be more productive and effective. I would like to drop 15-20 pounds. I feel like if I can be around 335-340 pounds, I can have the movement that I want. I feel like I can be a much better player, if I get that quickness and explosion. If I have that quickness and explosion and work on my technique, I can be a great player.
"You just have to do it. I want to do it. I want to be a great player."