The Pittsburgh Steelers knew full well heading into the 2018 season that they were not going to have Ryan Shazier on the field for them on defense any time soon. So they also knew that they would have to find some type of solution to replace what he brought to their unit in the offseason that year.
As General Manager Kevin Colbert recently acknowledged, they did not a good enough job in their efforts to replace Shazier, and he simply cited the team’s record and the fact that they failed to reach the postseason as all the evidence required to justify that assessment—not that anybody was positing a counterargument.
In 2017, after Lawrence Timmons left in free agency, the Steelers pushed hard to try to sign Dont’e Hightower. In 2018, needing to replace two-time Pro Bowler Shazier, they signed…Jon Bostic. As a bonus, they tried to draft one of the top four linebackers on the board in the first round but were beaten to all of them, the most inside linebackers to be drafted that early in several years.
So now they have to start over, and as should be no surprise, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in an NFL Scouting Combine preview that “the Steelers do not have any plans to use Jon Bostic…at one of their inside linebacker positions”.
In fact, we already began to see this taking place forward the end of last season. After L.J. Fort was called upon to play earlier in the year when Vince Williams was injured, the veteran began to see more and more snaps, becoming their dime inside linebacker, replacing both Bostic and Williams.
Deep into the season, Fort was even playing in base and nickel packages over Bostic, though not every snap, even if it was the lion’s share. If Fort was receiving that kind of playing time for no reason other than performance matters, and they’re certainly not going to head into 2019 planning on him being a starter, then it’s reasonable to deduce that that will not be the plan for Bostic, either.
While he might not be penciled in as a starter, however, it’s possible that he could still make the roster as a reserve, but I wouldn’t call that a guarantee, either. With Williams and likely an as-yet-unknown player as the starters, Fort and Tyler Matakevich will already be two reserves. The team would have to carry at least five inside linebackers, which is not uncommon, for him to have a good chance of remaining with the Steelers.
Bostic was originally a second-round draft pick, but in part due to injuries and in part due to changes around him, he hasn’t ever found a home he could settle into. He had a strong season in Indianapolis in 2017, starting 14 of 14 games, but he did not necessarily match that overall performance in Pittsburgh, even if his performance, at least against the run, was far from terrible.