DeMarvin Leal’s Dilemma – Steelers Warehouse

De Marvin Lyle. What is? This is the question the Pittsburgh Steelers must answer. And they can respond in dozens of different ways.

Leal was drafted as a tweener, something between an edge hacker and an inside player. One year into his professional career and that hasn’t changed. Initially, the Steelers planned to bulk it up and did it, bumping up to over 300 pounds for the summer. In the preseason, he recorded 91 snaps, all as a bottom lineman and over 26% of the snaps came on Pittsburgh’s 3-4 base defense. It was a similar story in week one, all 16 of his shots with his hand down, though 15 of them came on sub-packs.

The exception was a sign of what was to come. Pittsburgh put up their pack 3-3-5 once in that Bengals game after Watt was injured, though Leal was an important end on the play.

By Week 2, the Steelers had put that plan into action more thoroughly. A 3-3-5 look with Leal as a stand-alone linebacker, primarily an OLB No. 3 spinner, especially against heavy personnel. For the rest of the season, the Steelers have moved him on and he’s supposed, based on appearances as well, to keep his weight down.

And if you really want to compare/contrast its size, check it out. This is what it looked like in the first week. This is what it looked like at the eighteenth week. Yes, I will say it’s thinner. This is understandable.

Despite playing fewer than 200 defensive snaps, by the end of the year, he had lined up all over the field. According to our charts, he’s clocked in seven different positions: LDE, LDT, LOLB, RDT, RDT, ROLB and even inside linebacker, the latter being a special off-the-ball snap package put into the Bills’ three-run game.

During his rookie year, 37.4% of picks were spent on his feet. Although he was still rated as a defensive lineman, he was not used as much as the others. He was standing up, sometimes even going down to cover, and had a sensitivity to the Steelers’ base defense. Only 15.7% of the shots came in Pittsburgh’s 3-4/3-5 primary. he I was Part of the 4-4 defense Pittsburgh has leaned on for the last four weeks, but even then, he’s worked out of center on defensive end, not getting involved.

Overall, Leal wasn’t used like Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, and the rest. Only 52 of his picks, 30.4%, have come as insiders, lined up in an LDT or RDT. And when he lined up there, he often came in clear passing situations on third.

I know there are a lot of numbers, but that’s the whole point. Leal was not used as a defensive line. He was a great outside linebacker, capitalizing on his athleticism and hot drive, occasionally kicking inside as a pass sub-pack. Considering the fact that he would likely lose weight to play this hybrid role, it was the right and smart decision.

But what happens in this off season? The team needs to figure out what to do with Leal. Still young and raw, and without taking deep dives the entire rookie season, here are his best traits.

– Mathematical
– engine
– active / active hands
– Tools to be able to win in multiple ways as a pass

Here’s what he needs to work on.

– anchoring against the run along the inside
Finding the “go-to” rush movement
Build his own rush plan
Maturity (if what Chris Wormley says is any indication)

Here’s how I see it. Leal will never be Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, or Chris Wormley. He doesn’t have the type of body or strength with which to move along the inside, facing double teams against centers and guards all day. Yes, the Steelers have changed their approach up front and they’re getting one hole punch and penetrating more than they used to, but Lille will never be a giant against the run. This is not what he did in college. Texas A&M moved him but he played on the edge. Leal is a space player, an impressive athlete, and is an interesting fit as a “senior” outside linebacker as opposed to a small defensive lineman.

Had this happened 10 years earlier, playing EDGE in Pittsburgh would probably be out of the question. The Steelers used to drop their outfield players a ton. Despite the great threats on the edge, James Harrison and his comrades spent a lot of time holding back. Some of that was a byproduct of Dick LeBeau’s Fire Zone system, creatively rushing five and dropping a six, three under, and three deep, to create chaos. Even in TJ Watt’s rookie season, he’s been over 37% of the time. Today? Not even close. Last year, it was down 10.5% of the time. this year? Even less than that, 5.6% of deaths. Pittsburgh stepped up. These guys are moving forward, not backwards. They get paid top dollar for sacking a quarterback, not falling into the hook zone and making a six-yard tackle.

In Pittsburgh, the big, strong outside linebackers win. Not small speed guys. Greg Lloyd. Joey Porter. James Harrison. Lamar Woodley (before he got too big). Bud Dupri. TJ Watt. Alex Highsmith. Nobody in that group skipped leg day. Just like how great guards always do better with the Steelers, the same is true for EDGE. I saw him with Malik Reed. Too small, not powerful enough for running game. By the end of the year, he was inactive.

Leal will be one of the top 3-4 rushers in the game. Of a similar size to Dupree, he can be a competitive nightmare against tight ends similar to the impact a team has up front when Cam Heyward meets one. Leal lacks some foot speed to defend the perimeter, dropping weight and honing the stance will help with that, but he could be a solid running defender and third linebacker. He’s built like Mike Vrabel, a big guy and top-notch athlete who caught two touchdowns in his day (as a Patriot, not a Steeler) as a goal-line tight end. Leal is a modern version.

I don’t know his Pittsburgh plan. But if they ask me, here’s my work and honestly, it’s about the same as what the Steelers have done with it this year. A rotational OLB behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith with the ability to kick inside as a three-tech pass defender in clear passing situations. This is how Pittsburgh published it this year and it’s a plan worth sticking with. He plays to Leal’s strengths, plays down his weaknesses, and instantly gives this team a solid OLB depth that they will lack and will have to address, earlier than you think, as protection behind another Watt injury or a loss to Highsmith. As a pass rusher he is not the most drifting player but can fold the pocket and then work along the inside in the bottom third. Don’t think of it as a full-time EDGE.

The downside is that Lille is unlikely to turn into a full-time player. It will always be a little bit of this, some of that. But there is value in his versatility, and if a third-round pick can wear those hats, plug those holes, and beat the middle, that would be a solid pick.

The worst thing is making him a full time copy of something he doesn’t have. Defensive lineman. Leal can still have his moments but he will struggle more than he will succeed. When they drafted him, it looked like that was the Steelers’ plan. Because of Watt’s injury, they kind of walked in changing their strategy, using Leal on the edge. it worked. Enjoy this opportunity and take advantage of the desperation that reveals the right plan. This is how Leal is used. It’s good for him, good for this defense, and the course the team would be wise to take in the offseason. Where he weighs in next summer will indicate the Steelers’ plans.

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