Film Room: DeMarvin Leal Shows Promise As A Potential Year One Contributor On Defensive Line

On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Jacksonville and came out with a 16-15 win over the Jaguars. The narratives on the offensive side of the football included the positive play from the QB position with Kenny Pickett leading a TD drive in the two-minute offense and Mason Rudolph getting the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter along with the dreadful play upfront by Pittsburgh’s offensive line.

On the defensive side of the football, the play of rookie LB Mark Robinson stuck out as a positive storyline for Pittsburgh as the seventh-round pick out of Ole Miss was all over the field making plays against the run. However, fellow rookie defender DeMarvin Leal also made a notable impact Saturday night on the defensive side of the football, building off his first showing in the preseason against the Seattle Seahawks.

The Film

Leal finished the night with two total tackles, a TFL, and a sack. He saw more work in the first half of Saturday’s game, getting in during the second quarter and appeared to rotate with fellow DEs Chris Wormley and Isaiahh Loudermilk. Going up against the first team OL of Jacksonville, Leal did have a couple “hey rookie, welcome to the NFL” moments. One of those moments came against Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff on this rep where Leal gets hands on upon the snap of the ball and tries to rip back inside but Scherff yanks him down with a strong left hand, causing Leal to stumble after he loses his balance as Scherff puts him into the ground.


Leal also struggled with pad level at times throughout Saturday’s contest, getting too high on his rush and was easily knocked off balance. We see that here on the TD scramble by OB C.J. Beathard as Leal attacks the left side A gap against the center, being in good position, but tries to spin back inside while being off-balance, allowing the center to punch him out of the play which creates a wide opening in the middle that Beathard exploits for the score.


Another part of Leal’s game that stuck out was his inability to fight off blocks at times as a pass rusher. He would get engaged with the blocker at the LOS but would fail to execute a move the shed the block and put pressure on the QB. Here is one example in the second half where Leal gets hands on with the RG but can’t get off the block as the OL gets his hands inside Leal’s pads and steers him back and forth like a wheel.


Despite the notable technical issues that Leal dealt with on Saturday, he did showcase some promising moments as both a run defender as well as a pass rusher. For example, on this rep against the first team offense, we watch Leal string out the zone run to the right well, working down the LOS against the center and ends up pushing him into the running back, helping collapse the entire play. You would like to see Leal play with better leverage and not stand so high up, but overall, really good effort against the run an in pursuit to the football.


Here is another good play made by Leal against the run where he uses his quickness off the snap to immediately get penetration into the backfield, beating the RT across his face inside and quickly puts his foot into the ground to change direction and track down the runner from behind.


While Leal needs to improve his leverage and play with more consistency in terms of his hip and knee bend, you cannot knock the guy based on his effort. His motor runs hot nearly at all times, regardless of if the play is run or pass. Here is on example of an effort play made by Leal to track down a scrambling Beathard from the pocket. Leal and Henry Mondeaux execute a twist upfront and Leal gets picked up by the LG. Beathard starts to scramble, but Leal is able to reach out his hand to slow the QB down and lays out trip him up from behind in a similar fashion to what Ben Roethlisberger did against the Colts in the playoffs so many years ago to get him on the ground.


When Leal couldn’t get home on the pass rush, you saw some good instincts from the rookie DL in terms of getting his hands up into passing lanes like on this play below. He may have not gotten the tip on this attempt, but it’s promising to see Leal cognizant of trying to knock down passes at the LOS.


Leal’s best plays as a pass rusher came on back-to-back plays at the end of the game when the defense was attempting to close out the game for Pittsburgh. Last week, Leal flashed the tools of a skilled pass rusher as an interior defensive lineman but was unable to get home. This week, Leal managed to finish at the QB getting his first sack in the league on a cross chop to rip combo against the RG. The very next play, Leal has the LG worried about his outside shoulder after giving up the sack and capitalizes with an inside spin to get into the pocket. Leal doesn’t record the sack, but he manages to put pressure on #4 E.J. Perry to force the ball out quick.



Overall, Saturday night gave a great representation of where DeMarvin Leal is currently at as a rookie defensive lineman that needs to continue to work on his technique, but also what he can develop into based on the improvements shown in just a short amount of time. He struggled defending the run at Texas A&M mostly due to being inconsistent at fighting off blocks and his pad level, and while you still see those issues pop up, he has taken strides to make more of an impact as a run defender since Pittsburgh drafted him.

What really sticks out about Leal is his pass rush prowess as a young yet twitchy DL. His jump cross chop rip combo is a filthy move for most edge rushers, and he is executing it as a 22-year-old. On top of that, you see the ability to set up opposing OL with his inside spin the very next play, stringing together successful moves based on the tendencies the blocker is showing him.

Leal may not be ready to be a three-down defender at this juncture, but he doesn’t have to be given the depth on the DL this season. He will have the opportunity to rotate in in sub packages as a pass rusher and may likely eat into the reps of Wormley and Loudermilk the more he shows the coaching staff that can handle a bigger snap count with improved technique and consistency.

What are your thoughts on DeMarvin Leal? Do you think that he had a good showing against the Jaguars? Do you think his issues are correctable and that he can develop into a starting DL? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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