When the Pittsburgh Steelers made Temple inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich their last selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, they described him after the selection of simply being a football player, emphasizing that they value what he was able to do on the field over any specific physical traits or abilities that has become ubiquitous in the yearly draft discussion.
They brought him in despite already having a deep inside linebacker room, and that was even after losing a pair in free agency. But they also retained one from the practice squad a year ago and signed another in free agency, so his road to the 53-man roster was going to be a difficult one.
Yet make the roster he did, and he earned his game-day helmets as a quick study on special teams, even ending up leading the team in special-teams tackles during his rookie season with 12. He will no doubt continue to play an integral role in that arena in year two, but he has set his heights on loftier ambitions in his second offseason.
Chris Bradford wrote yesterday for the Beaver County Times that Matakevich “placed emphasis over the off-season in improving his hip mobility and lateral movement” because “both qualities are needed to excel in coverage as a 3-4 inside linebacker while matched up against tight ends, running backs or slot receivers”.
Bradford notes that “both were originally part of the reason Matakevich fell to the seventh round of the 2016 draft after a decorated college career at Temple” after he posted average athletic numbers at the Combine in an era that is increasingly emphasizing quickness and lateral movement at his position.
“Hip mobility and lateral movement, you can never get enough it as a linebacker”, he told reporters. “At this level, you need it. Being able to move each way. It’s huge. These guys are athletic and fast. You’ve got to be able to do it quick”.
Despite logging 269 snaps on special teams over the course of the season, Matakevich played just 19 snaps on defense during the year, coming in the regular-season matchup against the Dolphins in Miami. This was a game that Ryan Shazier missed, and Vince Williams, his replacement also exited late. He made eight tackles in the game, including seven in a row.
There are those who believe that, in an earlier era of the game, Matakevich might be a player like Zach Thomas of the Dolphins, but he is playing in 2017, and the way the game is played today, it is a prerequisite that he be able to demonstrate exactly the elements of his game that he claims to be working on this offseason.
He may not be entering the starting lineup this season, but Vince Williams is, and that means that Matakevich may very well now be the next man up just either he or Shazier go down with an injury, so it is absolutely important that he shows that he can play this part of the game.