Seemingly one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best-kept secrets over the course of the past few seasons—and one that they have largely kept from themselves—is the fact that linebacker L.J. Fort is actually a pretty good player. It is a reality that they seem to have finally formally recognized after they included him into the defensive gameplan on Sunday as a sub-package defender.
It was the first time in his Steelers career in which he has gotten into a game on defense for reasons unrelated to injury. While he played a rotational role at the end of last season, that only came after Ryan Shazier was injured.
In the new package, Fort is the only inside linebacker on the field, with both Vince Williams and Jon Bostic coming off, while Javon Hargrave is replaced by Mike Hilton and Morgan Burnett comes on as a sixth defensive back.
the building blocks for this package came from the first game against the Baltimore Ravens. Williams was out that day with an injury, and Fort rotated with Tyler Matakevich in sub-packages. He played well, and Fort told reporters yesterday that he feels that game “had a lot to do with” the new dime look coming about. “It built a lot of trust up in the coaches”.
This is in spite of the fact that we have been hearing from the coaches for years about how Fort is an athletic player in coverage. Perhaps if it were not for Shazier being one of the very best coverage linebackers in all of football, he might have seen designed playing time earlier than this year. Perhaps not.
But his teammates are glad to see it happen. Joe Haden called him one of the most athletic linebackers on the team in coverage. “He has really good ball skills”, he added. “He’s really good at dropping into zones, reading the eyes of the quarterback, he’s very athletic”.
On the season, Fort has 14 tackles to go along with one sack, though he has yet to officially record a pass defensed. He recorded four passes defensed over the final five games of the 2018 regular season—five in the last six if you include the postseason game—following Shazier’s injury.
It certainly appears as though this is a package that looks to stick around for a while, at least through the end of the season, and I for one am glad to see it happen. I think many around here are aware of the fact that all of us here at the Depot have been of the opinion that he needed to be on the field more in the wake of Shazier’s injury.