Steelers Update Status of ‘Top Backup’; Rookie ‘Ready’ to Return vs. Falcons

DeMarvin Leal and Ahkello Witherspoon

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images DeMarvin Leal, Malik Reed and Ahkello Witherspoon of the Pittsburgh Steelers defend against Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns on September 22, 2022.

On Dec. 3 the Pittsburgh Steelers made a late addition to the team’s injury report, listing “top backup” outside linebacker Malik Reed as questionable for Sunday’s road game against the Atlanta Falcons with a back injury.

Reed’s last-minute status change is especially notable because All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt is also listed as questionable with a rib injury. Watt has been a limited participant in practice all week, as per the team’s official injury report.

Also listed as questionable is backup running back Jaylen Warren, who is dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the lineup this past Monday night against the Colts — the first game he missed this season.

That leaves cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) as the only Steelers player who has been definitely ruled out for Sunday.

DeMarvin Leal Returns to the 53-Man Roster

In fact, Witherspoon is going to miss at least the next four games, having been placed on injured reserve to make room on the roster for rookie defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, who was activated off IR.

Leal was added to the injured reserve list on Oct. 15, shortly before undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He returned to practice on Nov. 16, opening a 21-day window to activate him or keep him on IR for the remainder of the season.

To date, the 2022 3rd-round pick has appeared in five games this year (with one start), having most recently played in the Oct. 9 game at Buffalo. He has been credited with nine tackles (five solo), as well as one tackle for loss and three passes defensed.

Leal may be returning to the lineup just in time. Even though he is a defensive lineman, the 290-pounder got snaps at edge rusher when T.J. Watt was out with a pectoral injury. He might reprise that role against the Falcons if Watt and/or Reed can’t play or are only available for a limited number of snaps.

“I am ready to do whatever it is,” Leal told Teresa Varley of “I am hungry.”

As for Witherspoon, he has played just one half of football since suffering a hamstring injury during Pittsburgh’s Week 3 loss at Cleveland. He was benched at halftime of Pittsburgh’s 35-13 loss to the Eagles on Oct. 30, having allowed six completions for 83 yards and two touchdowns to wide receiver A.J. Brown.

T.J. Watt, 12 Other Steelers Fined for Turnover Celebration

In other news from Saturday, 13 Steelers defenders were fined for an end zone turnover celebration during Monday night’s win over the Indianapolis Colts.

According to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, T.J. Watt and a half-dozen other players were fined $13,261, which “represents the penalty for a first-time offender of unsportsmanlike conduct.” The others hit with the five-figure penalty were: linebackers Myles Jack and Marcus Allen, plus defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Sutton, Levi Wallace and Terrell Edmunds.

Also fined were defensive backs Arthur Maulet ($8,528), Damontae Kazee ($6,597), James Pierre ($4,989) and Tre Norwood ($4,715), as well as linebackers Malik Reed ($8,333) and Alex Highsmith ($6,495). The lesser fines were assessed based on a percentage of their income, as determined by the NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement.

The celebration in question occurred after Steelers cornerback Pierre intercepted Colts quarterback Matt Ryan less than six minutes into the game, which was won by the Steelers, 24-17.

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