DeMarvin Leal hopes to soon join the likes of T.J. Watt and Damontae Kazee as members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense who have come off injured reserve to contribute and provide a second half surge. Returning to practice Wednesday, Leal spoke to reporters Thursday and says his injured knee is feeling much better.
“I am. I’m close,” Leal said via Steelers.com when asked if he’s 100%.
The team will have until December 7th to either activate him off injured reserve and to the 53-man roster or leave him on IR, ending his rookie season. But from what Leal said, provided he doesn’t have a setback, he’s likely to be back fully with the team for the final month of the season.
Drafted in the third round of this year’s draft, Leal, like Isaiahh Loudermilk in 2021, saw an unanticipated amount of playing time. His role expanded after T.J. Watt tore his pectoral muscle in Week One, used as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker and utilizing the versatility and athleticism that got him drafted. Leal flashed his traits in camp with us writing this summer report about his game.
“He explodes off the ball and his hand use is impressive, winning as a pass rush in a ton of ways. Cross chops, rips, spins, swims, he’s able to swing moves together, too. Leal is an impressive athlete in space and chased the ball hard, once running with Anthony McFarland 50 yards to the end zone to finish one rep (McFarland wasn’t full jets but Leal still impressed with his effort). I’m not sure where he’s at with his run defense, my primary concern with him coming out, but he’s on a positive track.”
Leal was logging between 15 to 25 snaps per game before suddenly showing up on the injury report with a knee injury days before the team’s Week 6 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Leal said his knee had been bothering him and he tried to play through the pain, managing it with post-practice treatment, before finally going under the knife. He told reporters doctors trimmed a torn meniscus, an procedure minor enough to give him the opportunity to return to the field this season.
Now healthy, Leal has to jump back on the moving train and prove he’s in-shape to handle a NFL workload.
“Just need to see me being able to go throughout reps and not be tired. Be able to ball out, be myself.”
If and when Leal returns, he’s likely to step back into a crowded room that now includes Watt. That could greatly reduce and change his role, perhaps playing more as an interior pass rusher than outside linebacker. But December 7th is a long ways away and all it’ll take is another front seven injury for Leal to have a role, just as it did to begin the season.