2023 Steelers Training Camp Battles: Defensive Line

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finished minicamps for the year and now Steelers fans are ready for “Training Camp 2023.” Training camp starts on July 27, 2023 at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe (PA) and we will preview position battles everyone should look for as the summer unfolds.

If you enjoy the process as I do, training camp is where a player can make his bones, or not. There are a number of new players either via the draft or free agency. In this article, I will attempt to provide some thoughts on one part of the team that is getting older but did get a vital “transfusion” from the draft and free agency: the defensive line.

I am not adding T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, or the EDGE-rusher linebackers in this discussion. The defensive linemen discussed here are the guys with their hands in the dirt.

Embed from Getty Images

Established players going to camp

I already did an earlier review of the defensive line following the 2023 NFL Draft, so I will be focusing on the players that will be at training camp with Pittsburgh.

The returning members of the defensive line are solid. We all know what Cameron Heyward can do. A gold jacket should be waiting for Heyward when he is done with his NFL career. Larry Ogunjobi is a big, solid defensive end. Look for him to be better this year. He was dealing with some injury problems in 2022.

I was always impressed with Ogunjobi when he played with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. He was a player that made things happen, and I look forward to him returning to that type of player wearing the black and gold in 2023.

DeMarvin Leal will get more playing time this year, and I hope that the Steelers settle on a position for him and allow him to focus on that.

The Steelers don’t need another “wildcard” player to replace Watt or Highsmith. That’s why they picked up Markus Golden and drafted Nick Herbig.

Leal needs to add some more weight and muscle, but I feel he can contribute more in 2023.

And last, but not least there is Isaiahh Loudermilk. Personally, I am disappointed in him. I have not seen any outstanding plays in a big game – or any game for that matter – that makes him standout. He’s entering is his third year. In my opinion it’s make or break for “Milk”.

Not only did the Steelers draft another Wisconsin player (Herbig) that could move Loudermilk out of a job, but a few of the guys brought in via free agency are no slouches either.

Embed from Getty Images

Free Agents and Draft Picks

Let’s start by talking about the new kids on the block. Keeanu Benton, I predict, will be a Cam Heyward-type player. Call me crazy, but I believe he has the potential.

I know what potential means, so let’s wait and see what the young man does in the 2023 camp.

Armon Watts, originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings who, last year, also played for the Chicago Bears, is a former 6th-round pick in the 2019 draft. When you watch his game film, one issue stands out: he tackles high, allowing some players to get away or at least get back to the line of scrimmage.

Watts does a good job of shedding blockers and getting to the quarterback or running back, but he can sometimes whiff, also. I do like his aggressiveness. I think he can be disruptive.

Embed from Getty Images

Just like Watts, Jonathan Marshall was a 6th-round draft pick of the New York Jets, who played for the Arkansas Razorbacks collegiately. I am not clear on why he did not stick in New York. His college tape looks pretty good. He looks like he can be dominant in the run stuffing, which the Steelers could use help with defensively after struggling in 2022.

James Nyamwaya is an undrafted rookie from Merrimack College. So, lets be honest – free agent rookie, small school – to me, equals a year or two on the practice squad if he makes it that far. He will need time to adjust to the NFL’s speed, get stronger, and learn how to take care of his body.

Manny Jones is a second-year player from Colorado State that played for the Arizona Cardinals last year. I did watch his college and NFL tape; I am not impressed with either. He looks like he is not strong enough to beat some blocks and is the guy that resembles the dog chasing the mailman, ten yards down the field.

Embed from Getty Images

Predicting who will be left standing after camp

We know for sure who the three top “starter” defensive linemen will be at the end of camp – not just based on scheme, and barring injury – and that’s Heyward, Ogunjobi and Benton.

Leal could be in that group, but I feel that means the Steelers consider Benton to be a nose tackle and a defensive end. I think Benton can do both, which adds value.

I think the Steelers put Watts as their fifth depth lineman on defense because he could also play nose tackle, and he has experience that counts.

Send Marshall and Nyamwaya to the practice squad. And, unless Loudermilk or James absolutely come out like a rocket, they get cut.

Suggested articles from our sponsors