Film Study: The Best Of Preseason Matthew Thomas

This year’s undrafted free agent class was arguably the best the Pittsburgh Steelers have put together in recent memory. With such notable names like outside linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and receiver Damoun Patterson, one can make such an argument that the undrafted class was as talented, if not more so than their drafted class. Matthew Thomas was a name that many in the Steelers fanbase had heard about; a young man that had a troubled collegiate career with Florida State, which also included the death of his mother. Yet what could not be denied was his athletic gifts.

To put it into perspective, Thomas’ SPARQ score based on his combine performance was 148.6, the highest among available defensive players in this year’s draft class and third highest overall. The question many wondering coming into training camp, who Thomas’ athletic gifts translate on the field and perhaps fill the void left by Steelers great Ryan Shazier.

This film study is a compilation of the best plays Thomas made in this year’s preseason. Not only did Thomas met the expectations set by the coaching staff and himself, he exceeded them which is one of many reasons why he made this year’s roster.

 

Running Down Jake Kumerow

Many had talked about Thomas’ speed but very few had actually seen it in action until this very sequence. The person to note is seen on the left, Green Bay Packers receiver Jake Kumerow. Thomas on this play is positioned at the middle linebacker spot. When the ball is snapped, Kumerow runs a beautiful ‘out’ route which cornerback Brian Allen unsuccessfully undercuts. As the play continues, we see safety Nat Burhe‘s attempt to stop him, yet he takes the wrong angle, allowing Kumerow to cut back inside. At this point, Kumerow has a clear path towards the end zone as he outruns Burhe. Thomas comes from his position which was around 15 yards back and takes an outside angle to stop him. Not only does Thomas outrun his own teammate, he is able to catch up to Kumerow and come a few inches away from perhaps making a play on the ball. Though he was unable to stop Kumerow from scoring, much can be said about his effort level and his incredible speed considering he is 6’3 235 lbs. To many in the Steelers world, this play was one the first examples of his natural abilities in action.

 

Making Plays Against Tight Ends

In this sequence against the Tennessee Titans, Thomas is seen lined up at the right inside linebacker spot. When the ball is snapped, the Titans tight end positioned at the slot left wide receiver spot runs a dig route inside. Thomas is able to shadow the tight throughout and make the tackle just before he is able to cross the first-down marker. One of the many skills Thomas displayed this preseason is his ability to cover in open field, a skill which is noted as a deficiency among many of the Steelers linebackers.

 

Strip Sack And Almost Touchdown Against Carolina

To me, this was Thomas signature play and perhaps the play that solidified his spot on the Steelers roster. One of the things we saw during these preseason games was Thomas being utilized on the edge, allowing them to make use of his speed and athleticism. In this sequence, Thomas is seen on the left side in 7-Tech. When the ball is snapped, Thomas uses a straight bullrush to push back the Panthers tackle on his side. With space created, he is able to strip that ball away from the Panthers quarterback and retrieve it all in one motion. Thomas heads outside and starts running upfield toward that Panthers end zone where he is eventually stopped at the 1-yard line by a Panthers defensive back. Though this did not count for a touchdown, the hand-eye coordination and agility shown in this sequence illustrated that his athletic abilities were for real.

 

Thomas making the 53-man roster was inevitable. Since the beginning of training camp, until the last preseason game, what made all this possible was his dedication to learning and developing. With questions surrounding his ability to combine both his natural abilities with work ethic, Thomas answered those questions quickly after the first few days of training camp, soon after in preseason games where he was highly productive. The Steelers may not have taken a linebacker in the draft, but I believe they got exactly what they were looking for.

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