Steelers’ DeMarvin Leal Puts Doubters on Notice With 4-Word Message

DeMarvin Leal

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal delivered a message to his doubters on social media.

Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers issued a challenge to 23-year-old defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal in his post-season press conference on January 18. But Leal has responded to that challenge and is apparently feeling very confident about how his offseason went.

On June 13, Leal issued his own simple message to his doubters on social media.

“Keep counting me out,” Leal wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

The Steelers drafted Leal in the third round at No. 84 overall of the 2022 NFL draft. But in two seasons, Leal has underperformed, posting just 29 combined tackles with 1 sack. He’s also recorded 3 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits and 4 pass defenses.

Including the playoffs, Leal ended the 2023-24 season as a healthy scratch in the final four games.

But with his performance at OTAs and confidence through his social media message, Leal may be poised to make a bigger impact in 2024.

Mike Tomlin’s Offseason Message to DeMarvin Leal

After a disappointing end to the 2023-24 campaign for Leal, Tomlin didn’t shut the door on the 2022 third-round pick returning to the lineup for the Steelers. But Tomlin put Leal on notice that it was going to take a lot of work.

“He’s got to be a component of that,” Tomlin said of Leal to the media on January 18. “Obviously, we put helmets on guys that we think are best positioned to help us secure victory, and he hadn’t been a component of that, and so he’s got some work to do.”

Leal dealt with a knee injury during the middle part of his 2022 rookie season. But he returned to the lineup that campaign and made his first NFL start in Week 17.

The young defensive lineman then received a golden opportunity for more playing time when Cameron Heyward suffered a groin injury in the 2023 season opener. But Leal struggled from Weeks 2-4, posting below average grades in run defense and pass rush according to Pro Football Focus.

Maybe as a result, Heyward rushed his rehab to return to the field for Week 9. Leal lost his starting job upon Heyward’s return. Then by Week 14, Leal wasn’t even dressing.

Last season, Leal recorded 15 combined tackles, including 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits, 1 sack and 1 pass defense in 12 games.

Leal Performed Well at Steelers Offseason Workouts

Given his play last season, it’s easy to see why pundits and fans are counting out Leal. But he appears more focused than previous years and could be set to prove his doubters wrong.

[He’s] looked outstanding,” Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said of Leal to the media on June 12.

“[Leal] looks like he’s in great shape. Really runs through the ball. Really doing some good things. It’ll be a big year for him.”

Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora argued that Leal has always had natural ability but that he needs to turn that into pass rushing production.

“Once he reports to training camp, turning his natural athleticism into pass-rush prowess will be key,” Kozora wrote. “Leal’s struggled to find go-to rush moves and effectively use his hands to defeat blocks.

“His run defense could also improve though it was better than his pass rush last season.”

It would be a big boost for the Steelers defense if Leal could become a regular contributor in 2024. Heyward turned 35 this offseason, so the Steelers are looking for their next Pro Bowl-caliber defensive lineman.

Leal could supply pass rushing support at defensive end this season. Second-year defensive tackle Keeanu Benton has also showed promise. Pittsburgh drafted Benton in the second round of the 2023 NFL draft.

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