There’s a good chance that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be without staring inside linebacker Vince Williams this coming Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons due to a hamstring injury he suffered late in the team’s Sunday night home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. If that’s ultimately the case, we could see backup inside linebacker L.J. Fort get the lion’s share of snaps alongside fellow starter Jon Bostic and Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said as much after Thursday’s practice.
“He’s going to get his chance this week, probably, Butler said of Fort. “I think he’s played well for us and we’ll see this week how he does. This is a big week for him and I hope he plays well because I think he’s a legitimate linebacker in the National Football League.”
That certainly is an interesting quote from Butler when it comes to Fort because the team certainly didn’t deem him a legitimate linebacker in the National Football League last season after starter Ryan Shazier went down injured. In fact, the Steelers chose to sign one of their former inside linebackers, Sean Spence, off the street after Shazier suffered his injury and then proceeded to let him play most of the defensive snaps the remainder of the season.
While Fort did indeed play some after Shazier was lost for the remainder of the 2017 season in Week 13, he only logged 55 defensive snaps in the team’s final four regular season games and just 13 in the playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Spence obviously played more than double that amount of snaps that Fort played and looked awful in the process of doing so.
After Williams left the game Sunday night against the Ravens with his hamstring injury, Fort replaced him in the defense and he proceeded to close out the contest with a strong performance that included him making 3 total tackles of which one resulted in lost yardage. Our very own Matthew Marczi highlighted a few of those plays in a Thursday post.
Butler was also asked Thursday if Fort being inserted into the Sunday night game in instead of fellow backup inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich after Williams was injured was a decision made related to the green dot communication helmet. His reply indicated that Fort entering the game instead of Matakevich was in no way related to the green dot communication helmet.
“Well, no. In fact, we felt like we put the next-best guy in there, so we put him in and we could still communicate,” Butler said. “I am not going to tell you how we communicate because if I do, I’ll tell our opponents how we communicate so we’ll adjust to it.”
This past week it’s been reported that Fort, Matakevich and rookie Matthew Thomas all received reps in place of Williams during practice with the possible notion being we could see all three play Sunday against the Falcons.
“Everybody is confident in their abilities,” said Fort. “That is what we are repping in practice. That is my goal, to play. So, I am ready for it. I am comfortable with the defense.”
While I would certainly like to see Thomas start playing some moving forward, him being a rookie and thus still probably learning the defense might mean he’ll be limited to certain packages for now. In fact, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hinted as much during his Tuesday press conference that Thomas might still have a lot to learn about the defense before he’s given the opportunity to play.
Fort, on the other hand, certainly has been around long enough and thus should know the defense backwards and forwards. Should Williams indeed be sidelined on Sunday, Fort deserves an opportunity to show he can be the next man up. I hope they give him that shot, the shot he rightly deserved late last season after Shazier went down injured.