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DL DeMarvin Leal Impressing DC Teryl Austin: ‘He’s Flashed’

One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. That’s the adage around Pittsburgh. Losing T.J. Watt isn’t something you want to gameplan for, but that’s the spot the Steelers were in after Week 1. It’d be unreasonable to ask one man to fill those big shoes, but the one player who has benefited the most isn’t even an OLB. It’s rookie DeMarvin Leal, who has carved a path to more consistent playing time in Watt’s absence. And the rookie keeps impressing DC Teryl Austin.

“I think that one thing it does is it’s forced [DeMarvin Leal] into play and I think he’s flashed some really good stuff,” Austin said, via team transcript, of adjusting post-Watt injury. “He’s kind of what we thought he was, a really active, really good football player that’s just going to need to continue to grow and get some technique work and all the good stuff that most young guys do.”

This isn’t the first time Austin’s brought up Leal, offering similar praise nine days ago.

A third-round pick out of Texas A&M, Leal’s rookie career arc is a bit like Isaiahh Loudermilk’s was last season. A rawer player expected to sit but pressed into action when injuries forced the team’s hand. Of course, in style and play the two couldn’t be more different, and Leal, a tweener coming out of college, has played a rush-end type of role to help replace Watt.

According to our charting, Leal has aligned as a standup OLB in either the team’s 3-3-5 or 3-4 front a total of 14 times the last two weeks, most of which came in Week 2 against the New England Patriots. On the season, he’s played 46 total defensive snaps, flashing energy, active hands, and a lot of hustle. Despite adding 20+ pounds since being drafted, he’s retained his athleticism that once had scouts viewing him as a potential first-round pick.

As Austin alluded to, Leal still has to put everything together. Right now, he’s more lump of clay than he is a molded product. Per our charting, he’s yet to register a QB pressure this season on 30 rush snaps. He does have a pass deflection, knocking down a screen pass in Week 2, but he’ll have to refine his technique in order to be a more productive pass rusher. Improving his get-off and balance will go a long way – he plays a bit top-heavy and can get over his toes. But getting reps now is the quickest way to learning and improving. With Chris Wormley, Larry Ogunjobi, and Tyson Alualu all set to be free agents after the season, not to mention Cam Heyward being another year older, Leal could use his rookie year as a springboard into 2023.

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