2017 South Side Questions: Who Starts At ILB?

The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on 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 start at inside linebacker for the Steelers against the Ravens?

This is legitimately a question that the Steelers will have to figure out this week. With Ryan Shazier currently in a Cincinnati hospital working to recover from a very scary injury, and Tyler Matakevich having suffered a shoulder injury that is presumably going to keep him out, there is a decision to be made.

The only other inside linebacker not already starting that was healthy and on the roster on Monday night was L.J. Fort, and he ended up playing the majority of the snaps, though they liberally utilized the dime defense.

The team yesterday also signed Sean Spence, a former third-round pick of theirs back in 2012, who has spent time in recent years with the Titans (under Dick LeBeau) and the Colts. He has made a number of starts for the Steelers before, and they probably wouldn’t have signed him if he were not in football shape.

But, especially coming off of a short week, will the team have enough time to prepare him to start in a game? He did play under Keith Butler for one season, in 2015. He started four games that year in place of Shazier, recording 37 tackles and a sack. He started six games last year, registering 54 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, and three passes defensed.

As for Fort, Monday night’s game was the most significant playing time he has seen since joining the Steelers, and since he started the first game of his career as an undrafted rookie in 2012 with the Browns. He recorded one tackle and a pass defensed against the Bengals.

Arthur Moats confirmed that he was a contingency option to line up at inside linebacker. He likely will get some work there this week with only three healthy inside linebackers who would ordinarily be fourth and fifth on the depth chart.

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