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Veteran Steelers Defensive Line Focused on Depth, Details

With seven of their top eight players back, the veteran Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line is focused on depth and details at OTAs.

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Pittsburgh Steelers DL Isaiahh Loudermilk
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk at OTAs on May 28, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have an experienced, veteran defensive unit, with a number of star players that have been playing together for a long time.

While there are notable newcomers like linebacker Patrick Queen, safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Donte Jackson, young players still growing into roles like Keeanu Benton and Joey Porter Jr., and a handful of rookies fighting for jobs, most of the players on Teryl Austin’s unit don’t need three weeks of OTAs to learn how to do their jobs at a high level.

With new starters alongside them, veterans like Minkah Fitzpatrick at safety and Elandon Roberts at linebackers have been fixtures, but Cam Heyward has skipped OTAs altogether while negotiating a contract extension, and the sessions have clearly been less impactful for other veterans like Larry Ogunjobi and T.J. Watt.

The focus, instead is on players that have a chance to grow into something greater than they’ve been, and that’s one of the reasons that defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk has been getting plenty of opportunities with the first team defense.

Loudermilk served as the Steelers sixth defensive lineman at the end of the season, slotting in behind Hayward, Ogunjobi, Benton, Montravius Adams and Armon Watts. Watts is gone, replaced via free agency by eight-year vet Dean Lowry. The rest of the crew, along with DeMarvin Leal and Breiden Fehoko, are all back, and sixth-round pick Logan Lee has been added to the mix, as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers DL Logan Lee

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie defensive lineman Logan Lee during rookie minicamp on May 11, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

So Loudermilk’s role is already pretty well defined. His opportunity at OTAs is more about becoming the best version of himself that he can be, and that’s important as the Steelers turn an eye to the future at the position.

“I think it’s all my mentality,” Loudermilk said. “I’ve been trying to get that tightened up this offseason, just kind of going out and playing more, and not being as timid. It’ll be year four, so it’s about time for me to start flying around and not think as much. I think that’ll help me.

“It is a tight-knit d-line group right now. … It’s the type of room where I can go out and fly around and not need to worry about mistakes. If there’s a mistake, we’ll all kind of come in collectively to fix it.”

RELATED: Worth the Wait: Isaiahh Loudermilk Impresses in 2022 Debut (+)

It’s not just the future that matters for Loudermilk, as well. Heyward just turned 35 and missed most of last season. Ogunjobi has battled multiple injuries over the last few years. One of the major things that has held the Steelers back on defense has been injuries to star players, with Watt missing major time in 2022 and Heyward and Fitzpatrick both missing big chunks of 2023.

Pittsburgh Steelers DT Isaiahh Loudermilk Ravens

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Isaiahh Loudermilk brings down Baltimore Ravens running back Justice Hill at Acrisure Stadium on Oct. 8, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Steelers have still had a top-10 defense, but if they want to be truly dominant, they either need their stars to stay healthy, or their backups to become true replacements when they aren’t.

“We’re bringing a lot back on defense, so it’s not a whole a lot of turnover, people having to learn new things, learn what the person beside you likes,” Loudermilk said. “There is that continuity between us, not just as a defensive line, but as a defense. Everyone’s been playing together for a couple of years. 

“I definitely think we can be an absolutely dominant defense. … It’s football. People are going to get banged up. It’s the next man up mentality. It’s the nature of the game. Something’s going to happen to somebody, and I think everyone knows that.”