Defensive line – the Pittsburgh Steelers’ deepest position group. They entered camp with seven players having excellent chances of making the roster. And one week in, that conversation hasn’t changed. In fact, it may be even harder to identify what name from that room – if any – shouldn’t make the squad.
A refresher of the seven: Cam Heyward, Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal, and Larry Ogunjobi. Granted, two of those seven have yet to practice in team. Alualu remains on PUP and Ogunjobi has only worked limited. But Alualu is nearing a return and the team is being cautious with Ogunjobi as he works to full health from a winter foot injury. Unless Alualu looks a shell of himself upon his return, or his knee/ankle gives him more problems, the group will be strong #1-7.
The available players have performed well. Cam Heyward is his usual excellent self and you don’t need my notes to tell you that. The best thing he’s doing is helping to make Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green better in their 1v1 battles. Wormley has done well and shined against James Daniels in OL/DL opportunities while working as first team LDE/LDT all camp, though we’ll see how things like when Ogunjobi returns in full.
Montravius Adams is a solid Plan B behind Alualu. He still looks quick off the ball and is getting off blocks in the run game when asked to two-gap or flow down the line. Isaiahh Loudermilk is enjoying a nice sophomore season, tightening up his pass rush plan and focusing on power rushes, bulls and push/pulls (here’s an example if you want to know what I’m describing) instead of swipes and cross chops. Loudermilk saw first team RDE reps with Heyward getting a breather yesterday. DeMarvin Leal has flashed quickness with a good rip move and has a nose for the ball, batting down passes at the line. That doesn’t even consider guys beyond #7 like Carlos Davis, having an underrated and strong summer while Doug Costin has been a volleyball player at the line of scrimmage with the way he’s batting down passes. There’s legitimately at least eight players worthy of making the 53 and potentially a ninth.
All told, the group has looked good and will look even better once Alualu and Ogunjobi return probably within the next week. For a team who almost always keeps six defensive linemen, the question may have to shift from who gets cut to if anyone doesn’t make it? Keeping seven feels like the only option. There’s still a month to go and injuries could easily reshape the conversation. Alualu does need to check the “healthy” box and prove his recurring leg issues (torn MCL and high ankle sprain in 2020, broken ankle in 2021, knee swelling in 2022) are behind him, at least to begin the year. But assuming good-enough health there, I don’t know which player is shown the door. This team would be unwise to make a difficult decision and let one of them go. Not after what happened last year when injuries piled up.
Keeping seven is smart but it comes with one consequence. You gotta make a cut somewhere else. Going heavy along the d-line means you’ll need to go lighter at a different spot. Where that could be is awfully difficult to say. Injuries can obviously have a big impact there. Perhaps the team goes with just eight offensive lineman or one short in the secondary. But that’s a secondary concern. First things first. The d-line room is strong and through one week, no one is playing their way off the roster.