The Pittsburgh Steelers had not drafted a defensive lineman in the first three rounds before last week since 2016, when they used a third-round pick on Javon Hargrave, who turned out pretty well. They hope that their latest third-round defensive lineman, DeMarvin Leal, will turn out as well—and he knows that he has plenty of “big brothers”, as he put it, to lean on.
Speaking with Missi Matthews for the team’s website, the rookie talked about coming in as the new guy to a room that is full of older players, both in terms of their longevity in the league and with the team. That group is led by Cameron Heyward, a perennial All-Pro, but also includes Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt (presumably), all of whom he hopes to benefit from.
“With the older guys, I know there’s a lot of older vets here, so I just want to be a sponge”, he said. “I just want to sink in as much wisdom as I can about the game itself. They’ve been here for a long time, so definitely gonna look at those guys as big brothers and take their advice when it comes to a lot of things, and just try to play all the positions that I can on the defensive line. That’s gonna take a lot of communication, a lot of learning, and just trusting the process”.
The Steelers have been slowly but surely working on replenishing their defensive line depth, with the draft picks starting to tick upward as their long-entrenched starters begin to enter the final phase of their respective careers. Isaiahh Loudermilk was a fifth-round pick last year, with Hargave being the only higher pick at the position since Tuitt in 2014. Fourth-round pick Alameda Ta’amu is the only other selection in the first five rounds not already mentioned since Heyward was drafted in round one in 2011.
Leal is an interesting player who seems to fit not just today’s game, but where the Steelers’ defensive line has been heading. He has athleticism in addition to a frame that would be supportive of playing along the interior. How to maximize both elements of that dynamic is the key toward being successful in Pittsburgh’s system.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said after the draft that the team would start him at end in a base 3-4 front, though he also wasn’t focused on that, noting that he would spend most of his playing time as a sub-package tackle.
He did talk about Leal having a frame that could support added weight to be able to play nose tackle without losing his athleticism, and one might expect that they will ask him to do that, though it might not be their priority for his first season.
Long term, the goal is surely for him to evolve into a starter, somewhere along that line, though where is not immediately clear. Tuitt could be in his final year, if he even decides to play this season. Alualu is likely at the end the road after 2022 as well. But would they want him at the nose full-time?