Listed at 6-foot-4, 304 pounds, Montravius Adams doesn't look much like Casey Hampton, Javon Hargrave, Joel Steed or many of the nose tackles the Steelers have employed before him.
But that doesn't mean he isn't an effective player manning that spot given what's now happening in today's NFL.
Adams might not have the base – thick legs and behind – that has been a trademark of nose tackles who have come before him. But he's setting up a base of a different kind.
Adams is setting up a home base with the Steelers, finally, after bouncing around the league for so long.
In 2023, there just aren't that many teams that run the ball out of true power formations, with most teams employing more of a zone blocking scheme that is based more on movement than it is moving people out of the way.
And because of that, having a nose tackle that is a massive plugger in the middle of your defensive line just isn't the necessity it once was.
"They're not classic offenses any more. Nobody runs a fullback on the field," said Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar. "Everybody is zone blocking. (Adams) is athletic enough and strong enough to play that position. That's what gives him the ability to play that position."
To Dunbar's point, according to Overthecap.com, there are 13 players in the NFL who are currently listed as fullbacks on active rosters. There are some other players, such as Steelers tight end Connor Heyward, who pull dual duties and serve as a fullback in certain situations, but the days of a player such as Dan Kreider slamming his way into the middle of the defensive front to create room for Jerome Bettis are ancient history.
And because of that, playing nose tackle isn't the dirty job it once was. In fact, with defensive tackle Cameron Heyward on injured reserve while dealing with a groin injury, Adams has played 62.5 percent of the Steelers defensive snaps, just slightly less than Larry Ogunjobi's 64.4 percent snap count.
He's been credited with 13 tackles and a forced fumble in the team's first five games.
"Mon is doing a really great job," said Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. "He just plays so hard, and he's playing really good. I think he's taking -- it's his third year (in Pittsburgh) now and all of a sudden you see all of the teaching that he's been getting in his room. The technique stuff has really taken off in terms of, you pair it with his motor, you're starting to get some really good results. He's been playing really well for us."
That wouldn't be happening if Adams was just a classic run stuffer.
There's still a place for those players in the NFL. But being a nose tackle isn't the dirty job it once was considered.
"I don't I don't think it is as dirty a job as it used to be," Adams said. "Yeah, you know, you still have to stop the run, but especially being here, I think the coaches do things that allow us to play to our strengths, regardless of what type of player you are. And we go from there."
It took NFL teams a while to figure out exactly what it was that was the strength of Adams. He's always been talented.
As a senior at Dooly County High School in Vienna, Ga., Adams recorded 127 tackles, including 34 for a loss, and 7.5 sacks in 14 games as a senior, becoming one of the most highly coveted defensive linemen in the 2013 recruiting class.
After initially committing to Clemson, he changed his mind and chose to attend Auburn, instead.
Adams was named to the Freshman All-America team by 247sports.com and by the time he was a senior, he was named second-team All-America and an all-SEC first-team pick, finishing his career with 147 tackles, including 19.5 for a loss, 10.5 sacks and two interceptions – as a nose tackle.
Then, at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2017, Adams ran a 4.87-second 40-yard dash at 304 pounds, enticing the Green Bay Packers to select him in the third round of the NFL Draft.
But Green Bay didn't bring Adams in as a nose tackle. Instead of playing head-up on the center, Adams was asked to be a three-technique and try to shoot the gaps between the guard and tackle.
After four up-and-down seasons in Green Bay, Adams signed as a free agent with New England in 2021. But he was released at the end of training camp, signing with the Saints. On Nov. 16, 2021, the Saints released Adams and placed him on their practice squad despite the fact he had appeared in five games, starting one, that season.
That would prove to be a key moment for Adams. Two weeks later, the Steelers were looking for an answer on their defense at nose tackle after Tyson Alualu was injured. They signed Adams off the practice squad of the Saints.
"I haven't played the same position," Adams said of why he bounced around. "At Green Bay. I was more of a three-technique. New England was a 3-4 defense, but I kind of played the same thing, a three-technique. Here is more of a base 3-4 and I've played the nose. I really hadn't played that since college."
It seems to suit him better.
Adams still plays some defensive tackle in the nickel and dime defenses with Heyward out. But he's the starting nose tackle. And unlike some other places, Steelers fans love their nose tackles.
"Definitely, this fanbase is showing me plenty of love," Adams said. "But my morale and everything comes out of this. From the head coach to coach Dunbar to my teammates. That's what keeps me in shape besides my family and God so keep me lifted up, keep me right. It keeps me focused on just trying to get better day by day."
It's not always been easy on his family.
He and his wife, LaTeisha Gray-Adams, have two young sons together. After making so many moves in the past few years, they're ready to put down roots in Pittsburgh.
"I've been around a couple places, so last year at the beginning of the year, I leave Green Bay, and I'm in New England," Adams said. "Okay, boom. Well, my family is still in New England. I'm in Texas because you know we had hurricanes. By the time I get a house in New Orleans, I'm in my house for two days, and it's Thanksgiving. I'm in the house. I literally just got it. Two days. My family comes down for Thanksgiving. Next thing I know, I'm (in Pittsburgh) on a Sunday night."
That's the life of many NFL players. And it can be tough on family life.
That's also why you'll never see Adams take a play off. When he was a younger player, he could get by on raw talent, just being more athletic than the player across from him.
Now, he has a much better understanding of not just what needs to be done, but all of the little things needed to do it.
"I was actually just talking to my high school coach about that," Adams said. "I remember him teaching me a pass rush move. And I've never used it because I'm in high school. I'm trying to use what I need to use to get to the quarterback. But I talked to him yesterday. He's like, 'You understand now.' As you get older and you get to the league, it's the best of the best, you've got to be able to grab any tool you need out of your toolbox, and I appreciate it."
All those things he learned along the way throughout his journey have made him the player he is today.
It molded and shaped him. Or, as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, the iron sharpened the iron.
He's taken it all in, from the teachings of Jerry Montgomery, his position coach at Green Bay, to what he gets from Dunbar, Austin or Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
"I feel like every part of the journey is needed," Adams said. "I feel like for me, I'm able to be real myself. I came out of college. Good player, but more instinctive. I feel like Jerry Montgomery taught me how to play defense, how to use my hands, how to play with fundamentals, how to be in a three technique, then step down and do this.
"So the next step was just getting back healthy at the Patriots stop. New Orleans gave me an opportunity to start to play get film, and then I feel like when I came here, that was maybe my last chance. You've had everything, let's try to put it on film. So when I came here I just wanted to go out and have fun. I fell in love with it."