Skip to main content

Camp Position Preview: Defensive Line

This is the second in a series looking at the Steelers by position heading into their 2024 training camp at Saint Vincent College July 24. Today: The defensive line

Players (12): Cameron Heyward, Keeanu Benton, Larry Ogunjobi, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravius Adams, Dean Lowry, DeMarvin Leal, Breiden Fehoko, Logan Lee, Jonathan Marshall, Willington Previlon, Jacob Slade

The Steelers had a healthy Cam Heyward on the field for about a dozen plays last season before he suffered a serious groin injury that would cost him six games, but from which he never really recovered.

Heyward played most of last season on one leg and was forced to have a second surgery to tighten up his opposite groin to get him back to 100 percent heading into his 14th season.

Now 35, both Heyward, who won the coveted Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, and the Steelers know he is much closer to the end of his career than he is the beginning. But Heyward and the Steelers feel he can bounce back and have a strong 2024 campaign.

"A groin is not like an ACL," Heyward said. "It's not like anything's ever going to get affected again. I'm feeling good, able to do everything, squatting heavy, with power and speed."

Getting Heyward back up to speed would go a long way toward solidifying the Steelers' front 7. But his absence allowed for more playing time for younger players such as Keeanu Benton, Isaiahh Loudermilk and DeMarvin Leal.

Benton, a second-round draft pick last season, appeared in all 17 games, starting nine, and showed promise as the team's nose tackle with potential to be even better in 2024 as a pass rusher.

"I think the thing with Keanu is he's more comfortable," Heyward said. "You know, I always think when you're in your rookie season, you're going from a bowl game, to training for the combine to rookie minicamp, OTAs, minicamp, training camp, the regular season. You really don't get a time to really catch yourself. He understands the playbook now."

This is a key season for both Loudermilk, entering his fourth season, and Leal as he heads into his third NFL year.

Loudermilk played 183 snaps and Leal 206 in 2023, and both enter the 2024 season still looking to establish a foothold in the lineup.

Veteran Larry Ogunjobi wound up playing more than expected in 2023 because of the injury to Heyward, logging 767 snaps, the most of any of the team's defensive linemen and his most since 2019.

Less could be more with the team's defensive front, but the players beyond the starters need to show they deserve those additional snaps.

With that in mind, the Steelers added veteran defensive lineman Dean Lowry and sixth-round Logan Lee to the equation.

Lowry could help offset the loss of Armon Watts in free agency. Watts played 273 defensive snaps in 2023.

A nine-year veteran, Lowry has appeared in 120 career games with 84 starts, giving the Steelers another veteran presence up front who is very good against the run and can push the pocket.

Lee (6-foot-5, 291 pounds) offers ideal size for a 3-4 defensive end and has excellent athleticism as a developmental prospect.

Montravius Adams appeared in 13 games, making eight starts as the team's nose tackle. An ankle injury slowed him and caused him to miss four games, but Adams is a valuable piece of the puzzle as a nose tackle with some pass rush ability.

Veterans Breiden Fehoko and Jonathan Marshall are back for another training camp with the team. Both spent much of the 2023 season on the team's practice squad with Fehko being activated when Adamswas injured, offering depth at the nose tackle position.

Willington Previlon and Jacob Slade are developmental prospects who will be in camp battling for roster spots or a spot on the practice squad.