Steelers Training Camp Recap: Inside Linebackers

Now that the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp has concluded, we’re recapping everything that went down over these past 16 practices. We’ll break down each play, position-by-position, with final winners and losers at the end. Finishing up the linebackers with the inside guys.

Inside Linebacker

Ryan Shazier: Unfortunately, a similar story with him. He missed 9.5 practices with a hamstring injury, only returning in pads for the final day, a light workout compared to nearly any other. When he practiced, he was solid, which is what you’d expect. The special athleticism he has has become the norm so we generally aren’t wowed by it anymore. But with so much time missed, and those first two practices done in pads, we don’t have enough of a sample size to go off of.

Camp Grade: Incomplete

Vince Williams: While Mike Tomlin initially held Williams out of padded practice, he quickly got back in there. Always have professed his coverage ability has been underrated and he responded with several breakups down the seam throughout camp. While I can’t recall any one particular hit that stuck out, he had his fair share of licks in the run game. Williams brings a level of intensity to the game that’s hard to match. A great teammate who got hyped in preseason games when he would stand on the sideline and watch someone else make a play. Sounds cliche and dumb but the dude loves football. It shows. The play ain’t half-bad either.

Camp Grade: B

Tyler Matakevich: Definitely one of camp’s darlings. His play speed makes up for his 40 speed and he was a menace in the backfield, consistently shooting the A gap and getting into the backfield. He takes great pursuit angles and finishes plays with force and violence. Like Williams, there were even a couple impressive plays in coverage, though he’s best in zone, when able to get depth, read the play, and drive on the throw.

Constantly earned the praises of teammates and coaching staff. Not much more he could’ve done better to improve his camp.

Camp Grade: A

L.J. Fort: Fort is an underrated athlete with an outside linebacker background. That’s why in Week 1 last year, Fort made a brief appearance as the Mack linebacker, the weakside position Shazier plays. While that is unlikely won’t happen this year, Matakevich is the top backup at both spots, it’s good depth to have.

It also makes for an asset on special teams, the combination of speed and hand usage to work off blocks and get downfield. He’s a sideline-to-sideline player and a solid tackler. The Steelers feel they are in a much better place with their ILB depth than a lot of fans do.

Camp Grade: B+

Steven Johnson: Johnson isn’t that much different from Fort. But I do think he’s a noticeably worse athlete and that’s why he serves as the Buck (strongside) linebacker. His camp was fine, he did really well in the backs on ‘backers coverage drill (5-3), and he had one breakup in coverage deep downfield vs Xavier Grimble. I don’t have, and never really had, anything terrible to say against him. I just think Fort is better.

Camp Grade: B

Matt Galambos: The Galambos/Keith Kelsey battle and comparison is similar to Fort/Johnson. Galambos is the less athletic of the two. But he shows a good football IQ and looks to finish reps. His best practice came at the Heinz Field practice, forcing one fumble and recovering another. I haven’t gotten a good feel for what he does in coverage but I don’t think it’s going to be his strong suit. Plus side, and I’m not counting this in the grade, I’m just sayin’, he saw a ton of reps in the second preseason game while Kelsey got very little. Some of that is due to the position they play but still, more tape, more time to shine.

Camp Grade: C+

Keith Kelsey: Similar story to Galambos. Two things stick out to me that set him apart. A better athlete and better tackling technique. Near leg/near shoulder principles that create power on contact. If you made me choose today, I’d give Kelsey the nod over Galambos on the practice squad but as noted, the snap count Galambos got against the Falcons is hard to ignore.

Camp Grade: B- 

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • PghDSF

    I know that Dirty Red had a great camp but he’s only been serviceable on the game. He got steamrolled on that 5 yd run for a TD by the Falcons. Meanwhile, Forte was making a lot of plays when he was in the game. I’d prefer Forte as the first backup.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    hamstring seems to be the issue this year. what 8 people had issues with em? couple years ago it was groin pulls, want to say year before that it was ab strains.

  • jconeoone C

    Fort seemed about 2 steps faster to me in the Atlanta game than I remember from last year…..which is a good thing

  • steelburg

    I’m partly with you I would love for Fort to be the primary back up to Shazier and Dirty Red the back up for Williams. I definitely wouldn’t mind him being the back up for both though. Fort was quietly the leading tackler in the preseason last year and this year he is doing the samething so like you I would give the nod to Fort over Dirty Red but it doesn’t appear the team feels the same way.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Steelers may have to keep 5 ILB’s if Shazier’s durability questionable.

  • Bryant Eng

    Alex, are you factoring actual preseason games into your grades? Dirty Red has look pretty subpar in the preseason, grading out as maybe average or slightly above in Game 1 and terribly in Game 2. LJ Fort, on the other hand, has looked like he could start on a team that wasn’t looking to contend. He reminds me of Jonathan Casillas a little bit.

  • Rotten Sircus

    I’m high on all these guys except for Steven Johnson. I just don’t see him as a Steeler ( IMO )

  • mark mcfadden

    Actually galambos, fort and Johnson played better in Zone coverage than Matakavich and Williams in the Falcons game. Matakevich was the worst of all 5 at zone.

  • mark mcfadden

    At this point Matakevich and Fort are even, Matakevich is better against the run.

  • Alex Kozora

    I factor the first game. Not the Falcons one, since camp has technically broken by then.

  • nutty32

    Special teams ace, when healthy.

  • Conserv_58

    Shazier’s durability is most certainly in question. His having a ham string injury will no doubt negatively affect him most or all of the season. Ham string injuries, like high ankle sprains, linger for a long time.

  • Conserv_58

    You’re right on. The worst part is knowing that ham string injuries linger for a long time.

  • Conserv_58

    Alex, There isn’t one evaluation that I don’t agree with.

    I really liked what I’ve seen of Fort and Galambos.

    Stevie Johnson, to me, doesn’t have a high ceiling. I’m afraid what we see is what he’s got.