The Pittsburgh Steelers begin their first of four preseason matchups against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field on Friday. For one seventh-round draft pick, it is the chance to put his talents to work in order to prove he is worth a coveted roster spot.
Tyler Matakevich is listed third on the Steelers’ unofficial depth chart at right inside linebacker behind Ryan Shazier and Steven Johnson, but expect the rookie to see plenty of snaps against the Lions on Friday night. Shazier will only likely see one or two series of downs before handing over duties to Johnson and Matakevich, who are locked in competition for a job on defense.
The Steelers’ final selection in this year’s draft, Matakevich is out to prove that seventh-rounders are more than throwaway picks that have no chance at a roster spot. The hard work the former Temple University linebacker has displayed since the start of training camp shows he understands his spot isn’t guaranteed, and that he is fine with fighting to make an impression.
Matakevich’s inaugural training camp has went as well as anyone could have expected. Not too many expect a late-round draft pick to make any sort of longstanding impression, but Matakevich is proving to those who are unaware of his near 500 total tackles in college that he is the real deal.
In backs-on-backers drills last week, where running backs are tasked with stopping linebackers from getting past them, Matakevich dominated all seven matchups assigned to him. Beating out Roosevelt Nix, the team’s starting fullback, solidified his victory in the drill. Using his speed and elusiveness to his advantage, Matakevich made the longstanding impression he most desperately needed.
When asked about the elusiveness he used to beat his adversaries in the drills, Matakevich had this to say:
"“You got to beat them with speed. You got to getting them to go upfield, and just counter back. That worked yesterday, but i know they’re going to be waiting for us. I got to bring something else to the table.”"
He definitely needs to bring more to the table, as training camp is barely under way, and a performance from another linebacker vying for his spot could make what he has done a distant memory. Friday night will go a long way in continuing the trend he set in camp, and further his chances for a roster spot.
His first on-field experience on Friday night will be a defining moment in his young career as a professional athlete. Although he won’t see much of the Lions’ first team offense, he will make his primary targets quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Jake Rudock. Where he should excel the most is stopping the running back, which will be Theo Riddick, Stevan Ridley, and Zach Zenner.
Matakevich will also make his bones on the special teams squad. Using his elusiveness and hard hitting ability, the young linebacker has more than one way to prove he belongs on the Steelers’ roster. Whether or not he is able to take advantage of every opportunity will be what makes or breaks his future with the Steelers.
For the sake of the future of the Steelers’ defense, Matakevich must make the final roster. If they release him and somehow he clears waivers, the Steelers could stash him on their practice squad, but it would only be a matter of time until another team attempts to claim him. The same situation happened to where the organization placed Doran Grant on the final roster in 2015.
If his prestigious college career is any indication of how his NFL career can pan out, Matakevich has all the potential in the world to succeed at the professional level. His first of four preseasons games, plus continuous positive performances in camp, can give him the edge over his competitors that will help him achieve his goal.
Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin called it “Football Justice” that Matakevich fell as far as he did to them in the draft, and he is absolutely correct. Where nobody would take a chance on the young linebacker, Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers’ organization rolled the dice and have come up with a young athlete brimming with future starting talent.
The future is bright for Tyler Matakevich on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, and it will continue to unfold on Friday night when he suits up for the first time in a black and gold uniform. With continuous hard work and determination, it will be a uniform he wears for years to come.