The big news yesterday for the Pittsburgh Steelers was the activation of tight end Ladarius Green from the Physically Unable to Perform List, adding him to the 53-man roster. But, of course, every time somebody is added to the 53-man roster another somebody has to be taken off of it, and while the decision in terms of personnel may have been an easy one, that does not mean that they were simply trimming fat.
The player taken off the roster in order to activate Green was veteran inside linebacker L.J. Fort, who spent the entire season running with the Steelers’ second-team defense behind the starting players and in front of veteran free agent Steven Johnson and rookie draft pick Tyler Matakevich. But both of those players remain on the roster as two of five inside linebackers, while Fort is currently out of a job. So how did that happen?
I might liken it to Arthur Moats’ career trajectory, especially since he has been with the Steelers, with respect to his ability to be a starter. While he is not the sort of player who makes mistakes, and plays disciplined with the occasional ability to make plays, he is ultimately more of a placeholder when it comes to starting.
That is why, for the third consecutive season, when he has found his way into the starting lineup, he was eventually ‘demoted’ to the second man in the pass-rushing rotation. It wasn’t that he did anything wrong to lose his spot; it’s just that the coaching staff gained a level of familiarity and confidence in the ability of the players behind him to succeed.
That is more or less what happened with Fort. With the added twist that it was a number of injuries that led to Johnson getting a helmet on game day, and once he was able to get on the field and contribute on special teams, he immediately had an impact. While Fort is a solid special teams player and frequent contributor, he was not having much of an impact this year. Johnson did, so he stays.
In the meantime, while it seemed inevitable once he made the roster that Matakevich was going to stick, I think it is also clear that when they got the opportunity to play him late in one game, they liked what they saw enough that they believed that they could rely upon him if it were necessary for him to play.
With the conjunction of these two player evaluations evolving over the course of the season—Matakevich is also a very frequent contributor on special teams, by the way, and has some tackles to boot—Fort simply fell back in the shadows. He was even a healthy scratch last week.
That is not necessarily all there is to the Fort story in Pittsburgh, however. He still has practice squad eligibility as a second-year player who only has two years of accrued practice squad seasons. With Marcus Gilbert back, they don’t need two tackles on the practice squad, so Keavon Milton, added on the 25th of October, would be the likeliest bet.