There was a lot of hope for young rookie undrafted inside linebacker Matthew Thomas as he performed well enough during the preseason to get the attention of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff. So encouraged were they by his play that they worked in a package that would get him on the field defensively during the third preseason game with the first-team unit.
Now he is unemployed, albeit surely temporarily. While he saw an active role on special teams (but not doing anything particularly notable during that time, aside from the rarity of a linebacker being able to play gunner for a snap or two), he would only go on to log four defensive snaps.
And those four snaps came at the end of a game that was already in-hand, in which injuries were also already a factor, so even those scant reps were not valued in terms of affecting a win or a loss. Then for the first time all season, the Steelers deactivated him for last week’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
If you follow me on Twitter, I observed at the time that his name was announced as being among the inactives that it was not a good sign for him now that the practice window for Olasunkanmi Adeniyi was opened, and of course as we learned yesterday, Thomas was indeed released to promote the other rookie undrafted linebacker from the injured reserve list to the 53-man roster.
But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for him. I have no doubt that the Steelers have every intention of re-signing him to the practice squad as soon as possible, barring the unlikely event that he is claimed off waivers.
After all, one need only look at another inside linebacker on the roster, L.J. Fort, who has been floating around the league since 2012. His first season with the Steelers came in 2015, and he spent a good deal of time bouncing from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and even time unemployed for stretches.
Since then, he has emerged as a sub-package defender, and coincidentally it is quite likely his very emergence that made Thomas expendable for now, because both are more athletic types that they are interested in utilizing in passing situations.
It’s clear that Thomas still has some maturing to do as a football player, and I have no reason to doubt that the Steelers continue to give him that developmental time. I fully expect that we will be revisiting his status as a defensive contributor next training camp, though the draft and free agency will have something to say about that as well.