PITTSBURGH — DeMarvin Leal is coming into his second season with as many questions himself as most people outside the building will have. Coming into Pittsburgh, Leal thought he would be a pure interior defensive lineman, but as the season evolved, he reverted back into the tweener role that he played at Texas A&M.
Due to the injury to T.J. Watt, the Steelers asked Leal to play anywhere from a 3-technique to as far as out as a 9-technique. He stood up as an outside linebacker in the big nickel package and shifted inside when the team wanted a pass rush juice from him there. Starting the year, Leal weighed 315 pounds, a whopping 32 pounds up from when he measured 283 pounds at the NFL Combine. That would easily make him the heaviest edge player in the league.
However, after tearing his meniscus and training in the offseason, Leal cut some weight. He is down to 290 pounds, which is more akin to his weight at Texas A&M. Leal admitted that his rookie season was an adjustment when his role changed on a dime, but it is what he did his entire college career. So, this offseason, Leal went to work and trained his body and technique to be that of a tweener.
“When I first got here my rookie year, it was focusing on strictly inside, but then T.J. got hurt, so I expanded to inside and out,” Leal said. “There’s just a difference in techniques. I wanted to get rid of that college, just get up the field mentality. On the edge there, I needed to get that speed stuff down, and win 4, 5, 0r 6 steps. I adjusted well. So, going into this offseason and knowing what to expect, I trained like I would be a tweener.”
While DeMarvin Leal may have trained to be a tweener, there is no sure thing he will be that in 2023. However, he confirmed that he has worked at both interior defensive line and outside linebacker during OTAs, lining up from those same alignments of wide-9 to 3-technique. Now at 290 pounds, he’s lighter and faster on the edge, but feels he has enough weight to hold his own down on the interior.
Leal feels like part of the new wave of positionless football that is making waves around the NFL. He sees that transformation going on. In fact, he won’t take on the label of outside linebacker, defensive end, or defensive tackle. Leal wants to be a weapon on defense in multiple areas.
“I feel like I can play from a 3-technique out to a 9-technique,” Leal said. “You know, I’m here and I know what to expect now. My training didn’t change much, sticking in that tweener role, I know what to expect. Honestly, I just want to be a weapon out there.”
When Leal had his exit meeting with Karl Dunbar and Mike Tomlin at the end of the season, they emphasized to the young defensive lineman that he had to work on his run defense to give himself true versatility throughout downs. So, Leal went to work relentlessly, working on hand usage, anchor ability, and other techniques that would take advantage of his quickness.
Some of the new linemen, such as Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts are teaching him a few tricks he did not previously. Regardless, this is the year Leal hopes to take that leap and become an x-factor of sorts for the Steelers’ defense that few teams have upfront.
“They definitely told me to work on my run defense,” Leal said. “You know, especially working that there on the inside. It’s very important. Some moments last year it was there, and there were others where it just wasn’t. I have to be more consistent there.”
The Steelers seem to not have a cohesive plan just yet for Leal. That could be because there are still some moving parts they are working out with their roster management, but a lot of the signs point to him sticking in that tweener role at this point in the process.