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New Faces 2016: DE Ricardo Mathews

At this point in the offseason, we find that training camp is just around the corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, and a lot has changed for them over the course of the past several months. They have lost a number of players in free agency, through releases, and retirements. But they have also brought in a number of new faces to replace them.

We all know that roster turnover is an ever-present reality for today’s rosters, and it seems that over the course of the past half-decade or so even the Steelers have proven to be as susceptible to the annual shakeup as anybody. With that in mind, we should take the time to get to know some of the new faces with training camp soon to be here.

Short of the big tight end who has yet to practice, the Steelers’ free agency class was far from glamorous, and defensive end Ricardo Mathews is as good a representative of that fact as anybody, having signed for a one-year, veteran-minimum deal that included no signing bonus, meaning there would be no dead money at all if he failed to make the 53-man roster.

But he should be a frontrunner to make the 53-man roster, if only because the Steelers are badly in a deficit with regards to quality depth along the defensive line. What sort of quality Mathews can offer remains to be seen, but he is the only option behind the starters who has had more than a handful of snaps in his career.

A former 2010 seventh-round draft pick of the Colts, Mathews has been a journeyman for the most part in his career, totaling 94 tackles and four sacks, with two forced fumbles and four passes defensed in his career.

Last season, in his second year with the Chargers, he started seven of 16 games, registering 22 tackles and a sack, while playing primarily as a nickel defensive tackle. Perhaps that is why the Steelers were interested in him, because that would be what he would primarily be spending his time doing.

Pittsburgh has taken to playing its defensive ball primarily out of the nickel defense, putting greater emphasis on the pass-rushing responsibilities of the defensive ends, who serve as tackle in a two-down-linemen front.

That is a role that former Steeler Cam Thomas was never able to accomplish, making it no surprised that the team made no effort to re-sign him. Mathews is more athletic and has the experience working in the nickel in the role the Steelers would ask of him. Paired with the no-risk salary implications, it was a shrewd signing, if not a splashy one.

Still, it will remain to be seen whether it is enough to help spell the Steelers’ prized defensive ends, both of whom are budding with Pro Bowl potential, and near-evenly divided 13.5 sacks between them last year in 30 combined games. it is important that the team is able to keep them fresh late in the season, which is where a rotational player like Mathews would enter the picture.

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