If there is one thing that rookie Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich does, it is make tackles, and if that was not already amply proven so during his near-500-tackle collegiate career, he demonstrated the sort of tally he can accumulate in a short amount of time during his fourth-quarter work on Thursday against the Eagles.
In spite of the fact that the Steelers were shut out offensively, there was still plenty of positive aspects to the game as a whole, and Matakevich’s improvement from game one to game two was one of them. Although he did draw one penalty on special teams for an illegal block above the waist—which I thought was a close call—he managed to compile five tackles in 17 meaningful, non-penalty snaps, and, generally, got what he was able to get that was in front of him, consistently showing a forward head of steam toward the line of scrimmage.
An interesting point to note is that when Matakevich entered the game, playing the mack linebacker position, L.J. Fort was still in the game, who had been running with the second-team defense. It was only halfway through that first drive in the fourth quarter that Steven Johnson also checked into the game.
Another interesting fact to note is that the Steelers have yet to utilize Johnson, a four-phase special teams player, in that capacity. He has been working on the team’s punt coverage units, but Matakevich has been lining up on the punt return units. Of course, Matakevich was penalized, while Johnson had a tackle.
But Matakevich was clearly the standout player of the two when it came to watching their defensive play. Though he did not make every play that he could have made—I felt that he missed a running lane on one occasion, and was unable to reach one or two on other occasions—his wonderful run stop for a three-yard loss on a third-down play is indicative of the sort of ability that he can rise to.
In many ways, the rookie reminds me of Vince Williams, a former sixth-round draft pick, during his rookie preseason in 2013. Though I was encouraged by him, many were trying to convince me that he would make the 53-man roster, while I felt he was ticketed for the practice squad.
Williams just kept making tackles in the preseason, however—he had 11 tackles in the final two preseason games—contributed on special teams, and forced the team’s hand to keep him on the roster. it is beginning to seem as though Matakevich may be taking a similar route.
The key factor is, of course, whether or not he can make himself an asset on special teams, because even if he is the fourth-best inside linebacker on defense, if he is not one of the four best inside linebackers on special teams, he is not going to find a roster spot waiting for him. Still, that should not take away from his encouraging performance against the Eagles.