The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line room is certainly one of their deepest positions on the roster right now, if not the deepest. In fact, it’s long been speculated that they are likely to carry seven defensive linemen, which is exceedingly rare for them, and that doesn’t even include players who have been on rosters before like Carlos and Khalil Davis and Henry Mondeaux.
Cameron Heyward sees this and appreciates the depth, discussing it in the locker room following yesterday’s practice, via the team’s website. “I feel very good about it”, he said about the depth that they now have. “My group is not a question mark”, he added. “It’s who’s gonna play, because those guys have put in the work, and I trust them out there”.
The projected starting lineup, at least when the Steelers play a base 3-4 front, is Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, and Tyson Alualu, both of whom made their preseason debuts on Saturday after working their way back from injuries.
Behind them, there is a traffic jam, but Chris Wormley is presumably still poised to be the number four lineman. Montravius Adams has missed extensive time due to injury, but should still project as the second nose tackle. Isaiahh Loudermilk is in the mix there, as well, and could be the seventh lineman, or could even push one of Adams or Wormley off the roster.
And then there’s rookie DeMarvin Leal, a third-round pick out of Texas A&M who has impressed both during training camp and the preseason with his athleticism and ability to win one-on-one matchups. While he still has to round out his game and play more disciplined ball, Heyward likes what he sees.
“He gave us a little bit of spark at the end” of Saturday night’s game, he said of Leal, who recorded a sack in the late stages after nearly having a sack the previous week. “Some really good rushes. He’s just got to continue to get working”.
Of course, on the same drive I believe, he also lost gap integrity in order to try to win a one-on-one matchup and opened up a play for the offense—an example of the sort of discipline he still needs to learn.
Another example would be the lack of wherewithal to get back to the line of scrimmage instead of celebrating after his sack, with fellow rookie defensive lineman Donovan Jeter having to shout at him to get back.
But he has looked good, overall, for where he is, and as Heyward said, the question surrounding the defensive line is not so much what do they have, but who is going to be playing. They have enough guys, even for a rotation. But how do you get them on the field? Somebody like Leal or Loudermilk is most likely going to be a healthy scratch.