For as much hand-wringing Pittsburgh Steelers fans do every year, no matter how well the team does the previous year, they are fielding a pretty good team in 2018. There aren’t really many starting spots open for grabs. Some believe that none are. But if there is one that will see an open competition in training camp, it would be the mack inside linebacker position to fill the vacated spot of Ryan Shazier.
That is the conclusion that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo indicated that he is approaching as we sit here slowly heading into June. The Steelers signed veteran journeyman Jon Bostic in free agency to a two-year, $4 million deal, but third-year man Tyler Matakevich ran with the first-team unit throughout the spring.
“I’m starting to think [the job is] up for grabs”, he responded in a recent chat session. “I too thought Bostic would be the starter, but the fact that Matakevich held that job for a month during OTAs and minicamp suggests they’ll have a similar approach in training camp”.
The Steelers’ brass paid heavy lip-service to the idea of Matakevich as a serious defensive contender after they managed to come out of the 2018 NFL Draft without selecting a single inside linebacker, though they reportedly attempted to trade up for Rashaan Evans until the Tennessee Titans got the same idea and worked out a deal with the Baltimore Ravens.
Last offseason, during his second year in the NFL, I distinctly recall reading reports from OTAs and minicamp detailing the Steelers’ attempts to test Matakevich in coverage, and he came up short fairly often, showing frustration.
The reports I’ve seen have actually been different this year, indicating that he has had a strong spring, and even made some plays. At the very least, he appears to have put himself into the conversation as being in the running for a starting spot.
That seems to be the plan heading into training camp, though we don’t know how things will work out once we get into Latrobe. It’s entirely possible that the coaches flip the script and install Bostic into the first-team unit.
It’s all very much yet to be determined. Not that opinions aren’t already formed. There is a pretty fixed mentality among many Steelers fans who believe that Matakevich is not capable of being a starting linebacker. Generally, seventh-round picks don’t have a great success rate in that regard.
If we do actually get a legitimate competition for the starting job at inside linebacker, it will probably be the most intriguing storyline of training camp, because there isn’t a whole lot else left to be determined that is of a similarly high priority for the 2018 season.