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‘Tough Decisions:’ Steelers Could Lose Talented DL in Cuts



Steelers Isaiahh Loudermilk

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have on their 90-man off-season roster seven defensive linemen with extensive NFL experience and one highly touted rookie in second-round pick Keeanu Benton.

That makes eight players that ought to expect to make the 53-man roster, at a position where the Steelers have traditionally only kept six or seven.

Starters Cam Heyward, Montravius Adams and Larry Ogunjobi are obviously safe, and teams don’t typically cut second-round picks, so Benton’s spot seems assured, despite a lingering ankle injury that kept him out of Saturday’s preseason game.

But the rest of the unit, including former third-round pick DeMarvin Leal and fifth-round selection Isaiahh Loudermilk and free agent acquisitions Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts have been furiously battling to be one of the ones that make it to the 53-man roster.

“I like the depth that we have on the defensive line,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said on Monday. “It’s been a great competition, and there’s going to be some tough decisions that have to be made. Because I think, at the end of the day, we may lose a guy that we know can play in the NFL.

“So I think those guys, Milk and all those guys, they’ve been doing a really good job. The competition is a healthy competition, which is what I really like. The guys are pushing each other to be better, not being petty about stuff. So I think it’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out this last week. But I think it’s been a pretty good group.”

Statistically, the former draft picks have the edge. Leal has six tackles, one hurry, and one-half sack. Loudermilk has five tackles and one tackle for loss. Watts has one tackle and two hurries. Fehoko has a tackle and a pass defended.

But the competition on the Steelers defensive line goes beyond statistics. A big part of the job of those players is to absorb blockers and keep the linebackers flowing freely to the football.

Loudermilk has the top run defense grade of the depth options, according to Pro Football Focus, with a 66.6, while Fehoko has brought up the back of the pack with a 29.4.

The Steelers do not have to make any cuts until after their preseason finale in Atlanta on Thursday night, so the contenders will have one more chance to prove their worth against a run-heavy Falcons team that is expected to feature first-round pick Bijan Robinson.

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