What role will Tyler Matakevich play in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ attempt to topple the New England Patriots later today? The second-year player has functioned as the backup inside linebacker this season, but missed last week due to a shoulder injury, and spent part of this week limited in practice.
He was suddenly thrust into a starting role two games ago following Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury, but was injured himself in the same game, with L.J. Fort, the last man standing, being called upon to finish out the game, though he was seemingly overlooked when searching for another starter.
Last week, the Steelers went out and signed Sean Spence, a former 2012 third-round draft pick of theirs, who started against the Ravens and played the lion’s share of the snaps at the mack linebacker position, but outside linebacker Arthur Moats also saw his time there, with Fort cleaning up here and there.
That was the plan without Matakevich. But he is going to dress today, presumably. As a young player, his limited status in practice could hinder his ability to play, however. And just because he was the backup plan when there was a starter in place doesn’t mean that can’t change.
So I will be interested to see how Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff approach the situation tonight. With Shazier on injured reserve, to they really intend for Matakevich to start for the remainder of the regular season and on through the playoffs, or will they change their tune?
They did sign Spence, who has more starting experience in Shazier’s role than anybody else on the team. He looked rusty last week because, frankly, he was. He not only had less than a week to prepare for the game, he had also been out of football for months.
Tomlin’s pre-game comments during the week seemed to indicate that they don’t really have a fixed plan, and that they will seek to find answers via trial and error, which suggests that at least a couple of different players may be given the shot to become the ‘hot hand’ and hold on to the role.
But who will be given the first crack at it? Will it be Spence? Or Moats? Or Fort? Or Matakevich? At least for this particular game, will they attempt to rely primarily on a dime defense against Tom Brady and his spread offensive approach that has been their kryptonite?
While some have soured on his long-term prospects, there is still a pretty significant contingent of ‘Dirty Red’ supporters who believe that he has the capability of legitimately being a full-time starting inside linebacker. This may be the best opportunity he ever gets to demonstrate the truth of that hypothesis.