The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
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 offseason 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 the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Who will be the Steelers’ top backup inside linebacker when the regular season starts?
Just to get it out of the way, I already know what the popular answer to this question is going to be, and, frankly, I think it may well be the leading candidate to be the correct answer. But to think that anything is already predetermined that far on the depth chart at the inside linebacker position in May is to be…well, overly ambitious.
The Steelers lost a starter in Lawrence Timmons and are banking on having an in-house replacement for him in Vince Williams. Williams himself moved into the role of top backup last season and got an opportunity to start a couple of games that Ryan Shazier missed due to injury. Now he is set to start alongside him.
But there’s a domino effect that comes with that move when it comes to the depth chart. When your top backup moves into the starting lineup, you need a new top backup. And the Steelers have three primary candidates for that role in second-year Tyler Matakevich and in journeymen Steven Johnson and L.T. Fort.
Although he was seemingly on the bottom of the depth chart to start the season, Johnson actually has the most polished resume of the group in terms of being a defensive contributor, having started games before in Denver. It’s certainly possible that he gets a more prominent look in his second season with the Steelers.
Fort was actually the first linebacker off the bench in the Steelers’ season opener, and he ran with the second-team defense alongside Williams all throughout the spring and summer, but by midseason he was released, only to be re-signed after Johnson had to be put on injured reserve.
That leaves Matakevich, ‘Dirty Red’, who is already a fan favorite. He came in as a fill-in against the Dolphins and recorded eight tackles in 19 snaps. He also logged 269 snaps on special teams, coming up with another 12. He’s the guy most seem to think will take ownership of the role, but it’s still early, and he’s also the least experienced.
Then again, so was Williams during his rookie season…then again, he was displaced by Sean Spence for two years. So yeah. Let’s wait and see. There may be a clubhouse favorite, but this is still yet to be determined.