Alex Highsmith Praises ‘Great Player’ In DeMarvin Leal For Continued Improvements In Rookie Season

Coming into his rookie season as a third-round pick out of Texas A&M as more of a ‘tweener along the defensive front, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal wasn’t quite expected to have much of an impact on a defense loaded with talent at all three levels.

Instead, quickly into his rookie season, Leal was forced into a sizable role after star pass rusher T.J. Watt went down with a pectoral injury. Needing a pass rush presence, along with some size and athleticism up front, Leal was the man that could fill that role.

Though he missed some time with an injury of his own, Leal has played a significant role in the Steelers’ defensive front as a rookie. Through Week 17, Leal has played 160 snaps, including a career-high 27 on Sunday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens as part of a concerted effort to stop the run.

Those 27 snaps on Sunday Night Football matched the 27 snaps he had against the New York Jets in Week 4. He then followed that up with 23 snaps in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills before being injured in practice leading up to the Week 6 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ultimately landing on the Reserve/Injured list, missing action until Week 13 against Atlanta.

In his return though, Leal has slowly found his footing, leading to Sunday night’s performance against the Ravens in which he recovers two run stops as part of a six-man defensive front at times.

For third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, Leal’s growth and impact on the Steelers’ defense is a serious testament to the Texas A&M product’s commitment, growth, and overall study habits.

Speaking with reports from inside the locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports complex on the South Side Monday, Highsmith had high praise for the rookie chess piece defensively, according to a video via 

“Well, he’s gotten a lot better knowing the defense and studying,” Highsmith said of Leal, according to a video via “And so, for him to be able to know that, and putting a lot on him as a rookie, I think he did well this past game. Just gotta continue to improve cuz he’s a great player and so just gotta continue for him to improve mentally as well.”

One of the biggest challenges for a young player entering the NFL, outside of adjusting to the speed of the game at the professional level, is learning the playbook and getting fully up to speed within the playbook overall, being able to play fast and loose without thinking.

At this point in the NFL, with 160 snaps under his belt, as well as some time to step back, rehab and fully dive into the playbook again, Leal seems to be up to speed overall, which is great news for the Steelers defense moving forward. If he can continue to develop physically and mentally, he can really develop into a key piece within the Steelers’ defensive front for the foreseeable future.

To Top
error: Alert: Content is protected !!