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Three Steelers Who Could See Expanded Roles in 2024

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made significant changes this offseason, including bringing in Arthur Smith to lead the offense and making several key acquisitions to strengthen both their offense and defense. However, some existing players on the team are also poised to take on more prominent roles in 2024. As training camp approaches, let’s explore three players who might see increased playing time this season.

TE Connor Heyward

Heyward is perhaps the most obvious candidate for an expanded role. Likely to become Pittsburgh’s No. 2 receiving tight end behind Pat Freiermuth, Heyward fits well into Arthur Smith’s tight end-heavy offensive scheme. Last season, Heyward managed 23 receptions for 167 yards despite Freiermuth missing five games. He played 403 offensive snaps, and with Smith’s frequent use of multiple tight end sets, Heyward’s snap count and involvement in the passing game should rise.

Additionally, with the uncertainty surrounding Pittsburgh’s WR2 position, Heyward could see more targets alongside Freiermuth. A season with around 35 receptions is not out of the question for him.

CB Darius Rush

Rush played only 39 defensive snaps for the Steelers last season after being claimed off waivers midseason. However, with questions about the depth behind starting cornerbacks Joey Porter Jr. and Donte Jackson, Rush could see increased playing time. The Steelers added Anthony Averett and Cameron Sutton, but Sutton is likely to play in the slot, and Averett hasn’t played since 2022 when he was mainly a safety. This leaves Rush, Cory Trice Jr., and Ryan Watts as additional options. Rush, a former fifth-round pick, has potential.

The Steelers showed their interest in Rush by hosting him for a pre-draft visit and claiming him off waivers. A strong training camp could see him climb the depth chart. Although Trice, recovering from a torn ACL, could also play a key role, Rush’s previous experience gives him an edge.

DL DeMarvin Leal

Leal experienced a disappointing sophomore season, being inactive for five games. However, with significant turnover on the defensive line and Leal showing up in good shape during spring practices, he could see more playing time. Competing alongside Cameron Heyward, Leal aims to help anchor Pittsburgh’s defensive line. The Steelers hope Larry Ogunjobi will rebound from a shaky 2023 season. Beyond Ogunjobi and Heyward, players like Keeanu Benton, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and veteran Dean Lowry are in the mix.

Lowry is known for his solid run defense and will contribute significantly. Leal might be vying with Loudermilk for a roster spot, but if he secures it and performs well, he could see increased snaps, especially as the team looks to manage Heyward’s workload. As a former third-round pick, Leal’s performance this year could be crucial in determining his future with the team. If he continues his progress through training camp, this season might be pivotal for his career.

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