Free agent signing Jon Bostic is still the odds-on favorite to be the starting mack linebacker when the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field for the first time in September in their season opener against the Cleveland Browns. But he has still to date not lined up with the first-team defense, according to Jacob Klinger.
The Penn Live reporter noted in an article late last week that he talked to third-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who confirmed that he took all the first-team reps during OTAs next to Vince Williams over the course of the past three weeks, even though Bostic was fully healthy the entire time.
The Steelers, of course, do not currently have an incumbent at the position. Four different linebackers played there at some point last season, and three of them are not even on the field. Sean Spence and Arthur Moats are not on the team, though L.J. Fort is.
The actual incumbent, Ryan Shazier, is intently watching practices, but usually from a cart. He is on the Reserve/PUP List as he continued to rehabilitate from a severe spinal injury that has left him retraining his body to walk under his own power since December.
Matakevich was sort of the last man standing, in a certain sense. He would have taken over last season following Shazier’s injury, but he re-aggravated an injury of his own during the same game, which eventually required surgery in the offseason. He continued to play for the rest of the season, but was limited to special teams, where he could better protect his injured shoulder.
The Steelers did sign Bostic in free agency, but they did not give him a deal that necessarily indicates an obvious starter at just $4 million over two years. For comparison, they signed backup defensive end Tyson Alualu to a two-year contract worth $6 million a year ago. Moats also earned more in 2017 than Bostic will this season.
It will be interesting to see if the free agent acquisition will get any reps with the first-team defense this week during mandatory minicamp, because if not, then he will have to wait almost a month until training camp begins.
Bostic started 14 of 14 games with the Indianapolis Colts last season. He was not brought in to necessarily be a starter, but he earned the job and quickly became a respected leader to a young group of linebackers. With the team changing regimes, and defensive schemes, however, they felt he did not fit what they were looking to do in 2018 under Frank Reich.
In contrast to Bostic, Morgan Burnett has consistently been running with the first-team defense as a fellow free agent signing, though the difference in that case is that there really is no other veteran anymore—excluding Jordan Dangerfield—after the Steelers released three of the four safeties from last year’s roster earlier this offseason.