The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Where will the Steelers’ next starting inside linebacker be most likely to be found?
There are three reasonable answers to this question: the current roster, free agency, or the draft. There aren’t a whole lot of other ways to acquire players, after all. But there seems to be an opening at inside linebacker for the Steelers, and they are going to have to find a more permanent solution than Sean Spence, who will probably not be re-signed in the first place.
It was all going according to plan. They drafted Ryan Shazier in the first round, and he was installed day one into the starting lineup. There were bumps and bruises along the way, but in a short amount of time, he worked his way into being a Pro Bowl contributor. Then it all changed suddenly.
Is the next starting linebacker already on the roster? If so, then it will be from a list of names including Spence—provided that he is re-signed—L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich, and Keith Kelsey, who was on the practice squad. He was the second option behind Matt Galambos, who was injured.
But they had these players at their disposal last year and it didn’t work out too well. The defense really started to fall apart without Shazier in the lineup. Going from Shazier and Lawrence Timmons a year ago to Spence and Vince Williams now, the level of play was night and day.
There is still a contingent that believes Matakevich can be the answer. He had a shoulder injury that prevented him from being given that opportunity. Could a rotation of Matakevich and Fort in passing situations be sufficient, using heavy dime packages?
Or is a new starter entirely the necessity? If the Steelers are going to pursue an inside linebacker in free agency—they toyed with bringing in Dont’a Hightower a year ago—then they will have to do some moving around in terms of the salary cap. But until the day Shazier walks through the doors ready to suit up again, there needs to be somebody to fill the void.