Will Pittsburgh Steelers rookie inside linebacker Matthew Thomas finally make his NFL defensive debut Sunday at Heinz Field against the Atlanta Falcons? With starting inside linebacker Vince Williams currently working through a hamstring injury that he suffered during the team’s Sunday night home loss to the Baltimore Ravens, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed during his Tuesday press conference that Thomas could be considered an option to play some in his place against the Falcons should a need arise.
“Yes, he would be,” Tomlin said Tuesday when asked if Thomas would be a potential option to replace Williams if he’s unable to play Sunday against the Falcons.
On the heels of that short answer, Tomlin was then asked to talk a little bit about the progress Thomas has made so far during his rookie season after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Florida State.
“You know, he’s done some nice things and he’s gotten better each and every day,” Tomlin said of Thomas.” You see some of the results of that in some special teams production. He’s had some special teams tackles the last couple of weeks, ran down and made a significant tackle on a kickoff inside the 20 this past week. Had a kickoff tackle on Monday night in Tampa, was playing some gunner for us. He’s got some talents, he’s learning what to do. As he gains more knowledge and a good baseline in play, he’ll be given an opportunity to participate when it presents itself.”
While that was indeed some praise for Thomas from Tomlin, it doesn’t sound like the rookie linebacker should be considered a slam-dunk to see playing time Sunday against the Falcons should Williams be unable to play. Instead, the Steelers might decide to let L.J. Fort or Tyler Matakevich get the first crack at being on the field alongside fellow inside linebacker Jon Bostic should Williams be unable to play on Sunday.
For what it’s worth, Fort closed out the Steelers Sunday night game against the Ravens to the tune of 11 defensive snaps after Williams left the contest with his hamstring injury.
Last week after a team practice Thomas let it be known that he received some first-team defensive reps on Thursday and Friday. Even so, him getting those reps may have had more to do with safety Morgan Burnett, who logged some playing time as the defense’s dimebacker to open the season, possibly missing the game against the Ravens with a groin injury.
Burnett ultimately sat out Sunday night against the Ravens and safety Nat Berhe replaced him as the team’s dimebacker for roughly 12 defensive plays. Berhe, however, like Williams, left that contest injured and he has since been placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list with a torn pectoral muscle.
In summation, all we know at this point is that Thomas will indeed and dress against the Falcons and that he’ll likely continue to play quite a bit on special teams. If he does manage to see the field some on defense against the Falcons, it might be part of the special ‘Seminole package’ the team designed with him in mind that we saw used very occasionally during the preseason.