Steelers training camp preview: Will Tyler Matakevich or Jon Bostic start at ILB?
The Tribune-Review will examine each position on the Steelers roster as they prepare to report for training camp July 25 at Saint Vincent. Today’s installment looks at the seven inside linebackers:
Vince Williams: As he enters the final season of his contract, Williams will try to hold together a position group rocked by Ryan Shazier’s career-threatening injury in December. Given a chance in 2017 to start full time, Williams produced eight sacks and 88 tackles. He will be tasked with breaking in a new position partner.
Tyler Matakevich: A special teams standout, Matakevich’s chance to fill in for Shazier last year lasted less than two quarters when he injured his left shoulder. Offseason surgery was required, and the Steelers signed a free-agent inside linebacker, yet Matakevich took the first-team reps during organized team activities and minicamp. It’s an indication the Steelers are giving him every chance to win the starting job in training camp.
Jon Bostic: All signs pointed to Bostic being the starter next to Williams when the Steelers gave the free agent a two-year contract in March. Yet he worked with the second team during offseason workouts. The former second-round pick had 97 tackles last season with Indianapolis, his third NFL team before joining the Steelers.
L.J. Fort: After Shazier’s injury, Fort was used at inside linebacker on passing downs. He also is a special teams contributor, which has helped him stick with the Steelers for three seasons as a practice squad player and backup. He has the benefit of being familiar with defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s system.
On camp roster
Matthew Thomas: The surprise of the draft for the Steelers was the absence of an inside linebacker. But they quickly addressed the position, signing Thomas as an undrafted free agent. At Florida State, he had some off-field issues early in his career but led the Seminoles in tackles each of the past two seasons.
Matt Galambos: The former Pitt player was signed to the practice squad at the start of the 2017 season but was given an injury settlement a few weeks later. The Steelers brought him back for another training camp, a no-risk investment given the team’s depth issues at the position.
Keith Kelsey: An undrafted free agent who spent the 2017 training camp with the Steelers, Kelsey was signed to the practice squad in September when Galambos was injured. He’s back for another crack at remaining in the organization.
Will Bostic supplant Matakevich as the starter?
Bostic has the edge in NFL experience and contract length, but Matakevich is one of coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite players. Matakevich never has started an NFL game at linebacker, which could give the edge to Bostic provided the veteran has a strong preseason.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.