Steelers Rotating LB Trio For Injured Williams

Hilton Returns to Full Practice Wednesday

Josh Rowntree
October 03, 2018 - 5:02 pm
Steelers LB Tyler Matakevich at practice in 2018

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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Besides the continual third-down conversions against the Steelers defense late in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, the unit was hit with another blow, as inside linebacker Vince Williams left the game with a hamstring injury. 

Williams missed Wednesday’s practice completely, leaving a trio of backups to take the place opposite Jon Bostic.

Rookie Matthew Thomas, as well as L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich, took turns playing with the first team linebackers, Matakevich confirmed after Wednesday’s practice. 

“These coaches know what they’re doing,” Matakevich said. “They know everybody’s strengths and weaknesses, so they’re going to put you in the best situation. Then it’s just on you to make the plays.

“We’ve all just got to be ready to do our roles. We just have to be able to execute.” 

Matakevich went down with a shoulder injury shortly after Ryan Shazier’s season was ended against Cincinnati last year. So he never got a full chance to show, with the first team, that he is ready to fill a starting inside linebacker void.

“I know what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I just haven’t been able to do that at this level yet. I know I can do it. I believe in myself and I know these coaches do because they’ve been putting me in. 

“Obviously, that helps the confidence. At the end of the day, you have to go out there and make the plays. It’s as simple as that.”

It’s unclear, according to Matakevich, which player will wear the communicator with the sideline and help call the plays. That determination will likely be made by Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler later this week.  

“They’ll figure it out,” Matakevich added. “They always do. We just have to go out there and execute. That’s what it comes down to. There’s no magic potion to fix it. You just have to go out there and do your job.”

Thomas is an interesting option. Once a five-star recruit, he played at Florida State through injuries and off-the-field issues. But he impressed enough in the preseason and training camp to win a spot on the 53-man roster. 

“I understand more,” Thomas said of his development. “I’m not just out there, floating. I know what I’m doing inside the lines, technique and all that. I feel a lot more comfortable and confident.”

Pittsburgh’s defense will be challenged in the passing game Sunday, as the Atlanta Falcons bring in one of the NFL’s best pass-catching trios in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu. But Thomas thinks his abilities in pass coverage can help.

“I’m very confident in my speed,” he said. “I know I’m a fast guy. It’s not easy to run past me, so I don’t have to worry about getting beat by a tight end. So I’m pretty confident in just sticking to my technique and defending them.”

Communication has been an issue across the defensive board for the Steelers and Williams’ absence certainly will not help.

“You can’t be hesitant, you can’t be second guessing yourself,” Matakevich said. “Once you make the call, you’ve got to rock with it and just make sure everyone gets it. 

“You’d rather have all eleven guys playing one defense. Even if it’s the wrong defense, you’d rather have all eleven playing that than have some playing that and some playing another. That’s when bad things happen.”

Hilton Likely to Return

Steelers nickel cornerback Mike Hilton was able to participate fully in practice after missing Sunday’s game with an elbow injury. 

“Everything felt good,’ Hilton said. “I’m wearing a brace for extra protection, of course. It stops certain movements, but I’m able to still move it up and down, catch the ball well, tuck the ball. Everything seems pretty solid, just extra protection.”

“It’s not going to hold me back, I’m still going to be myself, I’m still going to be aggressive, physical, I’m going to use my hands how I want to. I feel like I’ll be back to myself.”

Hilton’s presence was certainly missed against Baltimore, as the undersized defensive back, who often is able to cause pressure on the quarterback with slot blitzes, was replaced by Cam Sutton, who struggled. 

“It was frustrating, knowing that I feel like I could have helped the defense out in some situations. But, overall, it’s part of it. I’m ready to come back for this Sunday.”

On the injury report front, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Joe Haden were all given maintenance days. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, dealing with an ankle injury, missed practice, along with Williams. Safety Morgan Burnett was a limited with a nagging groin injury. Despite a foot injury, kicker Chris Boswell was listed as a full practice participant.