Steelers OTA preview: Overhaul at inside linebacker will bear watching | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Steelers OTA preview: Overhaul at inside linebacker will bear watching

Joe Rutter
1165869_web1_AP_19130696006128
AP
Steelers linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III practices Friday, May 10, 2019, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III (54) during NFL football practice, Friday, May 10, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
1165869_web1_AP_19130664784666
AP
Steelers linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III practices Friday, May 10, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

Editor’s note: Heading into the start of OTAs, the Tribune-Review will take a daily look at a position that will bear watching once the entire 91-man roster convenes at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Today: Inside linebacker

Who’s back: Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich

Williams has started in the middle since Lawrence Timmons departed after the 2016 season, but this year his playing time could be challenged. Matakevich entered last offseason with the first crack at filling Ryan Shazier’s spot but eventually settled back into his familiar special teams role. He is entering the final year of his contract.

Who’s gone: Jon Bostic, L.J. Fort, Matthew Thomas, Keith Kelsey

If tackles were still the top responsibility for an inside linebacker, Bostic might still be on the roster. He finished third on the team in his lone year with the Steelers, but his lack of speed and coverage skills were exposed. Fort was solid as a situational backup, but he was lured to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Thomas (practice squad) and Kelsey (injured reserve) were not tendered contracts.

Who’s new: Mark Barron, Devin Bush, Ulysees Gilbert*, Sutton Smith*, Robert Spillane, Tegray Scales*

*Could change positions

Barron was signed in free agency to provide more speed in the middle of the defense. With his history of safety play, he also can be used in a hybrid role in subpackages. With a strong offseason and preseason, Bush, whom the Steelers traded up to draft 10th overall last month, could propel himself into a starting role. The Steelers fortified the position later in the draft by taking two raw players in Gilbert and Smith. Gilbert could be kicked outside — coach Mike Tomlin has hinted as much — and Smith could move inside. Spillane and Scales are first-year players who were signed to futures contracts earlier in the offseason. Scales also has a history of playing on the outside.

What’s at stake?: One starting spot is up for grabs, and the Steelers have Barron ready to take it if Bush isn’t ready to claim one as a rookie. Williams’ role also could be tweaked depending on how quickly Bush develops. In OTAs, another storyline to watch will involve whether Gilbert and Smith are used here. Smith was a pass rusher at Northern Illinois, but he is undersized for the position in the NFL, which is why the Steelers have pondered using him inside. Gilbert has comparable size to Smith, so it will be interesting to see how the Steelers deploy him once the entire roster hits in the field next week.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Steelers
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.