The Pittsburgh Steelers carried five inside linebackers through most of last season. They released Matthew Thomas in the second half of the year, relocating him to the practice squad. In the offseason, L.J. Fort signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, and then they released starter Jon Bostic after the draft.
After signing Mark Barron in free agency, and then subsequently selecting Devin Bush in the first round. And don’t forget also about the addition of the athletic Ulysees Gilbert III out of Akron, their third of three sixth-round picks on the final day of the draft. So they lost three from the start of last season, but they also gained three.
The two linebackers who remain from last season are starter Vince Williams and special teams ace Tyler Matakevich. Williams’ job is obviously secure. Matakevich, as a standout player in the third phase of the game, would typically be safe. But how many of the above linebackers will make the team?
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette doesn’t seem to think the Steelers will keep all of them, though he doesn’t go into detail why—as to whether or not that is due to a numbers game at other positions or because the talent at the end of the position group is not sufficient enough to justify the number.
It goes without saying that Williams, Barron, and Bush will all be safe and secure in their positions on the team. It’s likely that all three of them will have a key contributing role on the defense this year regardless which two of them end up playing the most snaps.
Things get cloudier figuring out the pecking order behind the top three, though one figures that Matakevich and Gilbert would be pegged as the two vying for a fourth and potentially a fifth spot. The former already has three seasons’ worth of proven special teams play, but Gilbert offers athleticism that the Steelers are looking for.
But there is solid precedence for the Steelers keeping five inside linebackers. The Steelers did carry five at the start of the 2017 season, those being Williams, Fort, Matakevich Ryan Shazier, and Steven Johnson. When Terence Garvin was on the roster, he was the fifth inside linebacker as well.
As long as the fifth is able to perform at a high level on special teams, there is always a very good chance of him making the team. Based on the personnel at the position this year, there is a better than average chance of that happening. But at the same time, demands for numbers at other positions will be a complication, including the possibility of five outside linebackers.