It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Up for Grabs: Depth/Special Teams
In the Mix: Tyler Matakevich, Ulysees Gilbert III, Tegray Scales, Robert Spillane
The top three players at the inside linebacker position this year are basically set in stone already, even if the order isn’t quite worked out yet. Vince Williams has been with the team since 2013 and has been a full-time starter the past two years. Joining him are veteran free agent Mark Barron and rookie first-round pick Devin Bush.
But there will be at least one other inside linebacker on the 53-man roster, and possibly more, and there are four other linebackers on the roster to sift through. Most assume that it will come down to veteran Tyler Matakevich, a career special teamer, and rookie sixth-round pick Ulysees Gilbert III, but the two others mentioned were highly productive college players as futures signings.
The Steelers have an extended recent history of carrying five inside linebackers for special teams purposes, including last season when they rostered Williams, Jon Bostic, Matakevich, L.J. Fort, and Matthew Thomas, though the latter didn’t finish the season on the 53.
Matakevich has become a very good special teams player, making some significant plays that include a couple of blocked or partially blocked punts and defending a pass on a fake punt. He has led the team in special teams tackles in each of his three seasons. Even though he has largely proven that he is not of much use on defense, his special teams ability will make him hard to cut.
As for Gilbert, he is the light, athletic coverage linebacker that the Steelers have moved toward this offseason, and given that he fits the profile for what they were aiming for this offseason (see Bush and Barron), one would have to think that they like him.
It’s not a guarantee that they keep four players at the position though. That will largely be determined by how the bottom of the depth chart fares on special teams, as well as how the other positions on the roster break down.