The Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to waive rookie college free agent inside linebacker Matthew Thomas in order to make room for Olasunkanmi Adeniyi was not a popular one. While both undrafted rookies quickly emerged as fan favorites in the preseason, sacrificing one for the other as the latter was activated from the injured reserve list was not what fans had in mind.
At the time, however, it was a simple enough math problem. The Steelers had five inside linebackers, and he was the fifth behind fellow reserves Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort, both of whom are mainstay special teamers and the latter especially also seeing meaningful defensive playing time.
At the same time, the Steelers spent the first 11 weeks of the season with just three outside linebackers on the roster, Anthony Chickillo the only depth behind starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Adeniyi played on Sunday and his nine defensive snaps were more than Thomas saw in his 10 games active.
The latter cleared waivers and the Steelers re-signed him to the practice squad later in the week. But he said that he thought about pursuing opportunities elsewhere. “I thought about it”, he told Chris Adamski.
“In the end I decided I would just stay here because of the foundation and stuff like that I have with the system”, the rookie linebacker went on in explaining why he chose to stick with Pittsburgh. “I feel comfortable here. So I just need my opportunity to prove myself”.
While he does not explicitly say that another team offered him a spot on their practice squad or even 53-man roster (had the latter been the case, they likely would have just claimed him off waivers), it would not be a surprise if he did have an offer or two to consider. Players have also refused to sign to the practice squad once released in the past as well, such as Demarcus Ayers.
It wasn’t entirely just a matter of numbers with Thomas, however, who admitted that coaches told him some things that they were hoping to see more out of him. “Basically just seeing more urgency here and just being consistent, being a professional”, he told Adamski, which frankly is consistent with what we saw out of him during the preseason.
His speed and athleticism are valued, but in his failure to seize upon a niche role for himself due to the aforementioned deficits in his game, Fort has been able to emerge over the past couple of months to work in the passing game in place of Jon Bostic, and sometimes Vince Williams as well.
As I wrote after Thomas was first released, however, his story in Pittsburgh is not over. In fact, once James Conner returns from his ankle injury, Trey Edmunds will likely be released, and don’t be surprised for a second if it’s Thomas who is called back up to the 53-man roster to fill the last spot.