They didn’t exact need him when the Pittsburgh Steelers first drafted Tyler Matakevich in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Temple product did not exactly profile as a long-term starter, and the Steelers didn’t really need the depth, either.
They had their starters of course in Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, and Vince Williams had already been long entrenched as the top backup. While they chose not to re-sign Terence Garvin, they signed Steven Johnson in free agency, and also returned L.J. Fort, whole Jordan Zumwalt was still kicking around.
So why did they draft him? Well, because, as Head Coach Mike Tomlin described him after the draft, he’s a football player. Matakevich defied the odds and made the team, and has led the Steelers in special teams tackles in each of his first two seasons. He added two blocked punts and a pass defensed on a fake punt in 2017.
He’s looking to add starting inside linebacker to his resume in 2018. During a recent appearance with Steelers Nation Unite, Tomlin was asked about Matakevich and his chances of cracking the starting lineup after he spent the spring running with the first-team defense over Jon Bostic.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Tyler”, he said to the man who raised the question. “Really, his opportunity probably pertains to his health more than anything. He played the better part of the second half of the season last year with a shoulder injury. That shoulder was surgically repaired during the offseason”.
Matakevich entered the 2017 season as the team’s primary backup inside linebacker behind Shazier and Williams, who replaced Timmons in the starting lineup, but he suffered a shoulder injury in Week Six and further aggravated it in the game in which Shazier was injured, which prevented him from playing on defense for the rest of the season.
“I really think the opportunity that he seizes in training camp and through the preseason will be affected by his overall health”, Tomlin went on. “So far things are going really well, so in that vein I’m really optimistic about him and him being able to earn a significant role within our defense”.
There are a few things worth noting here, one of them being that Tomlin never actually talked about him being a starter, but rather referred to a “significant role”, and one might wonder if he chose that phrase deliberately.
Another factor here is the fact that he was talking to an SNU member, so he is kind of obligated to give a serious and respectful answer. The man who asked the question even said that he works with Matakevich’s father.
All the same, it was noteworthy I think to hear how much Tomlin framed the third-year player’s potential around his health. It doesn’t exactly sound as though they are putting a cap on their expectations for what role he can earn.