Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin praised rookie DeMarvin Leal and said his versatility will allow the Steelers to move him around the field. Austin was asked if Leal will continue to play on the edge, a spot where he saw some time with T.J. Watt out with a pec injury.
“Well, I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you all those things, but I will say that he is a good enough athlete to move out there. He gave us some good things, like a really nice play on the screen that he almost intercepted. He’s a big, athletic guy. The nice thing is, I’ll just say this, he gives us flexibility that we can move and play him in different positions. Where that ends up at the end of the year, we’ll find out,” Austin said via the official transcript provided by the team.
Leal was considered a bit of a tweener without a true position coming into the league, and he mostly played as a down lineman throughout the preseason and in Week 1. In Week 2, with Watt out and Pittsburgh running a 3-3-5 big nickel front, Leal spent some time on the edge, even sometimes standing up opposite Alex Highsmith.
Leal played in 24% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps on Sunday and didn’t particularly stand out besides the near-pick that Austin mentioned, but he did have two tackles after having one during the Week 1 victory. His snap percentage increased after he played 17% of defensive snaps in Week 1, and with Watt out, Leal’s should stay above 20% with room to increase based on how well he plays.
I don’t foresee Leal sticking around at edge, and by the time Watt returns he’ll probably be back to playing as a down lineman. He’s had his moments though, and he seems to be well-liked by the coaching staff. It’ll be interesting to see if he plays well these next few weeks if he’s able to move up the depth chart, although with the Steelers’ depth along the defensive line, he might have to really exceed expectations.
Pittsburgh clearly values him though, given they spent a third-round pick on him and he’s dressing and playing on gamedays. With this defensive line not getting any younger, he’s a guy to keep an eye on not only now, but in the future, and it’ll be interesting to see where Pittsburgh ends up keeping him position-wise long-term.