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Predicting the Steelers’ ILB Postional Battle

The Steelers may never replace Ryan Shazier. He was a historic talent. His combination of of size and speed along with his coverage abilities leave us wondering how high his ceiling could have been. Steelers fans can still hope that he is not only able to walk and live normally, but also that he lives up to his promise to one day step on the field again. In the mean time, the Steelers need to be looking for a way to possibly replace Shazier. No one player on the roster can fill that role, but a rotation of linebackers can try to that job. The Steelers play a 3-4 defense, so they have 2 ILBs on the field, a Mike linebacker and a Will linebacker. A Mike linebacker is a strong-side linebacker who is usually bigger and stronger and made to stop the run (Vince Williams). Will linebackers tend to be more athletic and speedy, and usually drop back into coverage over playing the run or blitzing the QB (Ryan Shazier).

 

Vince Williams (Mike)

Williams had a breakout season last year, putting together 8 sacks from inside linebacker, which is very, very proficient. He doesn’t have much speed or athleticism, but he knows the system and plays fast enough. He is a lock for the Mike spot due to his experience and play last season.

Tyler Matakevich (Will/Mike)

Matakevich should be a Mike in most systems, but the lack of Shazier puts him in the Will spot. In my opinion, Matakevich could be solid, but will never have the speed or cover ability that is required for that role. His knowledge of the system and quick-thinking could lead to him playing faster than many expect. Think of players like Luke Kuechly and Eric Kendricks, who, though they don’t have the top-end speed Shazier did, use their football IQ to play fast. Matakevich is on another level of unatheltic, especially when compared to the liles of Keuchly and Kendrucks, but when he was on the field, he flew around and was involved in every play. His sideways running and shuffling is faster than many would expect, considering his straight up running speed. He could be the immediate backup to Vince as a Mike, and part of a rotation for the Will’s.

Jon Bostic (Will/Mike)

Bostic has been in the NFL for 4 years, yet it seems like he has some untamed potential. Bostic has struggled mightily with injuries, and has never really shown what he can do. He is more athletic than Matekevich, making him a better fit for the Will spot, though Matakeich seems to be the better player at the moment. Once Bostic learns the system, expect him and Matakevich to battle it out.

Terrell Edmunds (Will)

Edmunds is only around 220 pounds, making him light for a ILB and a Will for sure. He is listed as a safety, but expect him to be in the box or in the Will spot, as his athleticism and coverage ability is off the charts for a “linebacker.” He’s big enough to make tackles in the passing game, yet nimble enough to cover receivers, backs, and tight ends. On the other hand, he may be too small to rush the passer or stop the run, making a much better fit at Will over Mike.

Mathew Thomas (Will)

Mathew Thomas was arguably the headliner of the Steelers’ UDFA class. Thomas is a high ceiling, low floor player, who flashed on the field at some times, and then disappeared at others. He showed major potential and he definitely has the athleticism to play Will. Though he is on the practice squad, he may fight to make the 53-man roster and even see some playing time.

L.J. Fort (Will)

L.J. Fort is a solid cover linebacker who hasn’t shown much upside, but has been decent while on the field. Unless the Steelers take 5 ILBs, the fight for a roster spot may come down to Mathew Thomas and L.J. Fort.

 

Conclusion:

Mike(s): Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, Jon Bostic

Will(s): Tyler Matakevich, Jon Bostic, Mathew Thomas, Terrell Edmunds.

 

This is what I see happening (usually):

Vince is starting Mike, and almost never leaves the field, but when he does, Matakevich steps in that role.

If Matakevich is not playing Mike, him and Bostic rotate at Will on 1st and 2nd.

On 3rd down, Mathew Thomas or Terrell Edmunds rotate in at Will.

In obvious running situations, Matakevich and Bostic see more time, and in passing situations, Thomas and Edmunds see more time.

Remeber that Terrell Edmunds may see more time on the field than explained here, as he may just be “in the box” sometimes over actually starting at ILB.

 

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