“Next Man Up”
“The Standard is the Standard”
We’ve all heard Mike Tomlin utter these iconic phrases on more than one occasion throughout his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers. More often than not, Tomlin's roster holds true to these mottos.
Time and time again, a player is lost to injury, and the next player fills in more than adequately in their stead.
Some perfect examples of this last year were when B.J. Finney filled in well for Ramon Foster, as well as Chris Hubbard for Marcus Gilbert. The Steelers pride themselves on quality depth and having players at the ready when something happens on the field.
But when Ryan Shazier was lost for the season in Cincinnati, the next man up, Tyler Matakevich, didn’t look like he truly fulfilled his coach’s prophetic sayings, and there might have been a reason for that.
Just a few series after Shazier was carted off the field, Matakevich further injured his shoulder which had been popping in and out of place since the team’s win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in October. Matakevich was essentially playing with one arm, relegated mainly to special teams duties, and he underwent surgery to repair his shoulder three days after the playoff loss to the Jaguars.
During surgery, the doctors repaired his labrum, rotator cuff and biceps tendon.
“I’ve got a new wing, so I feel good,” Matakevich told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I played the whole year with pretty much a bum arm,” he added.
Could the situation have been different at inside linebacker, with the Steelers not needing to sign Sean Spence literally off of his couch to help fill the role at inside linebacker? Matakevich thinks so.
“If I’m healthy, I think it’s a different story. I only had one good arm, so it’s a little tough to do.”
Nonetheless, putting 2017 in the past is something the Steelers are more than willing to do as they continue to prepare for the 2018 season through the team’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs). It's there that Matakevich has been getting reps alongside Vince Williams as the starter, rather than recently acquired free agent Jon Bostic.
“Everyone knows you don’t earn a spot in OTAs,” Matakevich said after practice. “You know it happens in Latrobe. It’s nice now, but when everyone gets the pads on, that’s when the real camp starts.”
“I’m just out there trying to get better,” Matakevich said. “Whether if it’s with the ones, twos or threes, I’m just trying to get better, perfect my craft and help this defense. As of right now, it’s with (the first team), so I’m trying to do whatever I can to help out.”
Kevin Colbert spoke about Matakevich, and how he, combined with Bostic, very well could be what the Steelers are looking for at the inside linebacker position. But the question remains whether it'll be good enough to fill in for the injured Shazier. One thing is for sure, the Steelers need to find an answer for the middle of their defense and, with an entire offseason to prepare, it should be a smoother transition than the midseason transition last season.
If nothing more, Matakevich, now healthy, provides some quality depth in the team’s inside linebacker rotation — something they seriously lacked in 2017.