2016 South Side Questions: What Is The Pecking Order At ILB?

The preseason has ended, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While training camp and the preseason might have seen a lot of work put into the team and the roster, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well, since the offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is really one that lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the preseason and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they head into a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: What exactly is the pecking order at the back end of the inside linebacker depth chart at the moment?

Right now, the Steelers have six inside linebackers on their presumed opening-day 53-man roster, an obvious excess. And really, it’s not clear in what sort of order the back end of that depth chart might align itself into over the course of the next several weeks.

The front end is clear, of course, with Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier the starters and Vince Williams the top backup, but behind, it is sort of jumbled and convoluted between L.J. Fort, Steven Johnson, and Tyler Matakevich.

Fort and Matakevich were on the initial 53-man roster, with Johnson released, but it would seem that he was only left off the roster because Bud Dupree needed to be on the roster to be eligible to return once he was put on injured reserve.

Johnson was the only vested veteran of the three, and thus the only one of the group that would not have to go through waivers in order to re-sign, so he was the logical choice with which to attempt to do the back-and-forth, which is certainly not new to the Steelers.

Fort spent the entire offseason from OTAs to the final preseason game running alongside Williams with the second-team defense. Yet I couldn’t happen to notice that on the team website’s depth chart, Matakevich was listed with the second-team defense next to Williams, with Fort and Johnson behind.

It may be worth noting that Matakevich is listed behind Shazier at the mack, while Fort is behind Timmons and Williams at the buck, though it’s not clear at all if that signifies anything of significance.

The first real taste of some sort of pecking order should come with the first inactive list of the regular season—although, if all six inside linebacker end up being active, which is certainly a possibility, then we might gain little insight as yet. And ultimately, with the top three positions secure, it likely will mean little who is fourth on the depth chart.

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