The Pittsburgh Steelers passed on any of the big names at the inside linebacker position in free agency—even in a year in which the big names were more mid-tier players. They missed out on the top four inside linebackers they viewed as first-round picks during the 2018 NFL Draft.
They also seemingly showed no interest in veteran Mychal Kendricks when the Philadelphia Eagles released him a few weeks ago, ending up instead within the division with the Cleveland Browns. All they came away with was a journeyman borderline starter in Jon Bostic.
So it’s understandable that fans have tried to psych themselves up for the one inside linebacker that they did end up adding in undrafted rookie Matthew Thomas out of Florida State. He is 6’3” and undersized for his frame (he was reportedly summoned to work with the team’s strength and conditioning coach to help him bulk up), but he displayed the ability to make plays during his college career.
The problem is that he also showed the ability to miss them as well. But when you don’t have a lot to get excited about, a player like Thomas starts to seem much more appealing.
And for what it’s worth, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted in a recent chat that he observed that the rookie “has received a bunch of work in OTAs”. He added that he thinks the Steelers are “taking a long look at him”.
There is a roster spot available for somebody, with likely only three positions at inside linebacker already largely in place. Vince Williams is obviously going to remain with the team, and Bostic will be there as well. Tyler Matakevich is their top backup, but anything behind these three is unresolved.
There is L.J. Fort, who is returning for another offseason. He has spent years on and off the roster already, generally a fixture on special teams, though he does not make as many plays as you might hope for a bottom of the roster guy.
Behind Fort is a pair of 2017 undrafted free agents in Matt Galambos and Keith Kelsey, both of whom spent some time on the practice squad last season. Throw Thomas into the mix, and the Steelers are waiting to see how it all shakes out in training camp.
Things really weren’t all so different just recently. In 2013, behind starters Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote was a rookie Williams and a linebacker by the name of Kion Wilson, who was a journeyman at best. The most notable name that they beat out for their roster spots was Brian Rolle.
Thomas is the only linebacker in the group that they haven’t gotten a good look at last year, so it would make sense that they would want to see as much as they can from him now, as he is the biggest unknown commodity as a rookie.