Even if there might have been some optimism, the Pittsburgh Steelers were well aware of the possibility during the course of the 2022 NFL Draft that they may not have the services of Stephon Tuitt at their disposal moving forward. Whether or not that weighed on their decision to draft defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal in the third round is neither here nor there, as the end result is the same.
Even with Tuitt’s retirement, there is still no certainty that Leal will dress on Sundays, as the Steelers do have enough depth to swing a defensive line unit for game days without him. But now he has a clear path in front of him, an opportunity to play that he is embracing, even while lamenting the loss of working with and learning from a veteran like Tuitt.
“It’s definitely a blessing. Just a sad situation when it comes to Tuitt. He’s an older guy, so that’s another guy I could have taken knowledge from and wisdom from”, he told reporters yesterday, audio via 93.7 The Fan.
“Not having that opportunity kind of sucks, but at the same time it gives me the opportunity to learn stuff, have more of a relationship with the older guys”, he continued. “Not saying that I wasn’t before, but just, it puts more of an emphasis on it, because it’s an opportunity. The opportunity is here, so it’s learning quickly, and being able to do everything right now”.
As stated, recent developments do not guarantee the Texas A&M product any playing time, but it makes the path that much clearer. He could either play to such a caliber as to convince the coaching staff to dress six defensive linemen on Sundays—or earn an extra hat via special teams—or he will have to set his sights on the goal of surpassing Isaiahh Loudermilk on the depth chart.
A fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin last year, Loudermilk logged more than 300 snaps for this defensive front, and showed marked improvement over the chronology of that playing time. While not to be mistaken as the second coming of Tuitt, he genuinely showed potential, enough that it shouldn’t be assumed that a Day 2 rookie draft pick will have an easy time unseating him for an opportunity to contribute.
As is always the case in the trenches, we won’t learn a whole lot about Leal until training camp when we can get the shoulder pads on and the real hitting can start. As has become the norm over the past decade, that’s when the tackling sessions will open up and we can get a real look at how he would show up in game action.
The Steelers are really in the market for a complete player who can play both in base and nickel and perform equally well as a pass rusher and a run stopper. The rookie still has a long road ahead of him before he can claim to have earned anything, but he’s not lost sight of the door that has opened with Tuitt’s exit.