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Have the Steelers Really Addressed their Need at Inside Linebacker?

The Steelers may never come across a defensive talent like Ryan Shazier ever again. He was versatile, blazing-fast, and the leader of our defense. The defense struggled mightily in his absence, and replacing him seemed to be the No. 1 priority for the Steelers this off-season. Yet, the Steelers did not trade up for Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans and ended up never drafting an ILB at any point. Instead, they proclaimed to have confidence in Tyler Matakevich, Jon Bostic, and the “box” safeties they have on their roster.

A box safety is a safety with the versatility, strength, and run-stopping ability to step up into the box with the linebackers before the start of the play. For the Steelers, basically all their current safeties can do that. Marcus Allen, Terrell Edmunds, Morgan Burnett, and Sean Davis can be capable box safeties.

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Recent Steelers draft pick Marcus Allen is exceptional against the run, but can’t cover like Shazier could. The Steelers will need players like Allen to step up in order to replace Shazier.

Often times, box safeties play the same role as Inside Linebackers, as they have to conduct the defense, stop the run, and cover receivers. Seems like a viable solution. But there is a reason it is not commonly used throughout the NFL. Sure, safeties occasionally creep up into the box, but is rarely ever used as a full-time replacement for the ILB. Safeties usually are not strong enough to shed blocks, stop the run, and cover larger recevies, like Tight Ends. This raises questions about the Steelers ability to shut down opposing offenses, especially with the Steelers closing Super Bowl window. There is no replacing Ryan Shazier, but the Steelers should have at least taken a swing at an athletic Inside Linebacker in the draft.

 

Optimistically, the Steelers will find a way to make their rotation work out. I believe Matakevich is grossly underrated and has potential to be a full-time starter, though he does not have the speed to cover smaller, faster receivers. On the other hand, safety Marcus Allen is one of the best in the class against the run and has the speed to cover smaller receivers, but will struggle against any polished route runner. Terrell Edmunds is an athletic freak and is big enough to occasionally step in at ILB. The Steelers also picked up athletic UDFA Mathew Thomas, who might actually make a decent impact if give the chance. In order for this to work, though, the Steelers need to be very schematically smart, match up the personnel with the offensive play-calls, and expect more from their your players.

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