With Ryan Shazier out for the season with a severe spinal injury, the Pittsburgh Steelers will need someone to step up and fill the void at inside linebacker if they are going to have any chance of taking down the New England Patriots. Because Shazier was such a great leader and playmaker on the defensive side of the ball for the past couple of years, the Steelers will need to either sign a replacement player or look to see if anyone on the Steelers can step up.
Having recently signed Sean Spence, who played in Pittsburgh from 2012-2015, the Steelers are searching for answers to the looming question. Here are some potential answers:
1. Tyler Matakevich
Before Ryan Shazier was injured, Matakevich was the second-string linebacker and has the most experience with the first-team defense at this point. Although he did not play well against Cincinnati, Matakevich could be an easy internal replacement. Matakevich has officially been ruled out for Week 14 against the Ravens. So Matakevich’s impact won’t be seen until the Week 15 at the earliest.
2. Sean Spence
Drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Sean Spence has been plagued with injuries and underachieved. However, Spence does know the Steelers’ defensive scheme as he spent three years in Pittsburgh. With this reunion, Spence could get another shot to prove his worth and play on an elite team with high expectations. Although he hasn’t played football in nearly two months, Spence would be a decent fit if Matakevich’s injury is significant.
3. Move T.J. Watt to inside linebacker, James Harrison back in the starting spot at outside linebacker.
This may seem like an absurd idea, but if you think about it, this idea may actually be the most successful. First off, T.J. Watt is a physical specimen with both strength and speed. His athleticism could be used to help fill the middle linebacker spot as he already knows the defensive scheme and is extremely physical. All Watt would need to do is learn the middle linebacker position and certain play-calls.
As with Harrison, his move into the starting outside linebacker spot would be smooth. As seen through his workout videos, Harrison is still in great shape and has played the position for what seems like an eternity. If these moves work out, the Steelers may actually have a chance to win it all.
4. Arthur Moats to middle linebacker
Moats has played with the Steelers since 2015 and knows the system. Having already been a linebacker and gone to linebacker meetings, Moats could adjust to the middle linebacker position quickly. The only concern here is that Moats hasn’t played a lot throughout his career and has not started a single game this season.
5. Bud Dupree to middle linebacker, James Harrison start at outside linebacker
This move makes a lot of sense because Dupree has raw strength and extreme speed similar to Ryan Shazier. The only problem here is that Dupree has never played in the middle of the field as he is mainly a pass rusher. Still, no one can deny that he has all of the physical tools to succeed at the middle linebacker spot. As said above, James Harrison would have no problem being in the starting lineup again too.
As seen through these options, nothing is clear-cut and every move here is risky in its own ways. However, the Steelers will need to figure this out fast as they draw nearer to a Sunday night showdown with the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens. Personally, I would try and give the T.J. Watt idea a try but who knows. Maybe the Steelers make a move that surprises everyone.