On Monday, HC Mike Tomlin spoke to the media in his weekly press conference, where he talked about the events of last Sunday’s loss at home to the New England Patriots and previewed the team’s upcoming Week 3 matchup against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.
Tomlin then opened the presser up for questions and was asked about rookie DL DeMarvin Leal and his role as a rush defensive end that he had in yesterday’s game against the New England Patriots. Tomlin kept to the status quo when talking about young rookies when he mentioned his thoughts on Leal and his need for continued development to earn more playing time.
“He’s a young guy that’s growing and we’re finding ways to get him on the field,” Tomlin said during Monday’s press conference which aired live on the team’s YouTube channel. “He’s taking advantage of the opportunities and making some plays in the meanwhile, and I just think it’s reasonable to expect all the above to continue. We’re going to find ways to get ’em on the field. He’s going to learn. He’s going to make more plays. He’s going to get better. That’s just the natural maturation process of a young guy. That’s doing enough to get further opportunities.”
Leal played 16 defensive snaps on Sunday against the Patriots, getting some looks out on the edge as a rush DE with T.J. Watt sidelined as Pittsburgh tried a combination of players to fill in for his absence. He recorded two total tackles in the contest, one solo and one assisted, along with one pass breakup. We saw him actually line up in a two-point stance on his feet rather than with his hand in the dirt like he traditionally does, which could be considered a surprise for a player tipping the scales over 300 lbs.
Leal’s ability to play up and down the LOS as well as play on his feet at his size speaks to his athletic ability and talent as a defensive lineman, something that Tomlin and the rest of the defensive coaching staff have noticed since having him active the last two games while sitting second-year pro Isaiahh Loudermilk down as a gameday inactive. Receiving 33 snaps in two games as a third-round rookie is nothing to scoff at for Leal, who had a lot of ability coming out of Texas A&M but was considered raw and needed to add strength and size to hold his own better as a run defender.
While Tomlin’s comments aren’t the most illuminating about Leal’s prospects this season, he did continually mention that they are trying to find ways to get him on the field. With Cam Heyward and Tyson Alualu up there in age and Stephon Tuitt retiring this offseason, it looks like the team is grooming Leal in a rotational role this season to be next in the line of impact starting DL for Pittsburgh for years to come.