The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Heading into training camp, what are the odds of inside linebacker Steven Johnson making the 53-man roster?
When the Steelers signed Steven Johnson to their 90-man roster via a veteran qualifying contract for the minimum salary, it initiated a bit of a debate about the odds of him making the 53-man roster. Given the number of players already at the position, it seemed he would be an outside shot, yet free agent signings have such a long and strong track record of making the team.
Technically speaking, he actually did not make the initial 53-man roster, as the team chose him to be the player to sacrifice in order to be able to place Bud Dupree on injured reserve with the eligibility to return later on in the season.
But after the qualification of being on the roster for Dupree was met and he was moved to the injured reserve list, Johnson was promptly re-signed, and he spent the rest of the year on the 53-man roster, until he suffered a season-ending injury himself.
The curious thing here is that, with Lawrence Timmons gone, there should theoretically be room for all five inside linebackers, but this year, the team has a lot of depth at other areas that would seem to make it unlikely that they would carry more than four at his position.
So that means there’s a more than reasonable chance that only two of Johnson, Tyler Matakevich, and L.J. Fort will make the 53-man roster. Matakevich, a second-year player, was the only one of the three to be consistently active and led the team in special teams tackles.
When it comes to Fort, it can’t be overlooked that the team cut him during the season and only re-signed him when Johnson got injured. But it also can’t be overlooked that he is the only one of the reserve linebackers with a bit of agility, which could be pretty important given Ryan Shazier’s injury history.