Every year the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base tends to gravitate to one player as their training camp darling in hopes they could be the proverbial diamond in the rough for their favorite team.
This year it might have been a toss up among several players, but one who was definitely in the mix was undrafted free agent linebacker out of Florida State, Matthew Thomas.
Thomas possessed the rare speed, athleticism and size most thought could help be a band-aid for the giant hole on the defense left by injured Ryan Shazier. Throughout the preseason Thomas worked both at inside linebacker and outside linebacker, and showed some serious versatility on special teams.
It looked at if he was being primed to be a very nice weapon in Keith Butler’s defensive scheme. Then Thomas was inactive on game day midway through the season, and that followed with his release to make room for Ola Adeniyi on the 53-man active roster.
What happened with this promising young talent to go from special teams player, to finding his way on the team’s practice squad after clearing waivers?
We may never know, but one thing is for sure — Thomas remains a confident player moving forward.
“I still feel good, I’m still confident as a player and as an athlete,” Thomas told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after practice Friday. “I am not going to let it get to me. I have been in worse situations, so this is just a little setback.”
Ultimately, Thomas understands it was a numbers situation which saw him as the odd man out with the Steelers.
“It’s just part of the business, you know?” he said.
“Just waiting for my opportunity. And I have to show them more on my end, just show them more urgency and just give them what they want to see. So I have to work on that and come back to the table and go back to the drawing board and get myself right.”
So, what did Thomas think led to his release? The main contributor was consistency.
“Basically like just seeing more urgency here and just being consistent, being a professional,” Thomas said. “All those things play a factor in it.”
Thomas conceded that he did consider other teams during the 48-hour period in which he was, by definition, a free agent.
“I thought about it, but in the end I decided I would just stay here because of the foundation and stuff like that I have with the system,” Thomas said. “I feel comfortable here. So I just need my opportunity to prove myself.”
That opportunity might not come until next season, but the hope is Thomas will be better prepared to make his mark with a full season as a professional under his belt.