The regular season is now over, 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 the postseason is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is 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 playoffs as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to playoff success, in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Question: Is L.T. Walton ahead of Ricardo Mathews for good as the first defensive lineman off the bench?
When the 2016 regular season started, second-year former sixth-round defensive end L.T. Walton was a weekly inactive, essentially an afterthought. Maybe, just maybe, he would some day grow into a player that could be a contributor. But for now, he is going to ride the bench. In sweatpants.
As the Steelers prepare to face the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Walton has his game pads ready knowing that if the team opens in their 3-4 look, he is going to be a starter. And either way, he is going to play, and probably play a lot.
How much he plays could be determined by both the health and the status of veteran defensive lineman, and free agent acquisition, Ricardo Mathews, who has been dealing with an ankle injury that he has been dealing with for the past several weeks and has caused him to be limited in games, or even scratched.
But that has not necessarily come at the expense of quality defensive line play. In fact, Walton has made major strides in his increased playing time, particularly against the run, and it leads me to wonder if he is not now ahead of the veteran on the depth chart.
Mathews offers more as a pass-rusher, which will get him on the field in select obvious passing situations when they need it, but other than that, I am anticipating that Walton will receive the vast bulk of the third defensive lineman snaps, whether that is in the 3-4 or in spelling one of their nickel starters.
The question is becoming increasingly relevant as Mathews comes closer and closer to returning to the field. He practiced in a limited capacity yesterday, and the hope is that he will be able to go full today. From a health standpoint, it appears as though everybody has a chance to play. How much they will play, particularly between Walton and Mathews, is the question.