Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebackers say they're solid even with Ryan Shazier out for season

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' inside linebackers might as well come with a warning label: Don't write us off just because Ryan Shazier is out.

Pittsburgh will miss Shazier, who will not play football in 2018 due to spinal stabilization surgery in December, but Tyler Matakevich "absolutely" takes issue with the perception that linebacker is a problem area.

"They don't give the rest of our inside linebackers credit," said Matakevich, a potential starter in his third year. "I think Vinny [Williams] is a tremendous player. He's smart. We just brought (Jon) Bostic in. He's played four years. He knows what's going on. L.J. Fort's been here for a long time. He knows this system. I think we have the guys who are capable of doing it."

The source of the perception is easy to find -- the Steelers struggled to stop the run in Shazier's absence last year, and they didn't spend free agency or draft capital on directly replacing him.

Pittsburgh was among the league's best at stopping the run for much of the year but gave up 133.5 yards per game once Shazier went out Week 13.

The team signed Bostic, a former second-round pick with 32 career starts, to a two-year deal worth nearly $4 million. Matakevich has received first-team reps alongside Williams, who ranked second on the team in sacks (8.0) in his first year as a starter. The defense will also experiment with various looks up the middle, possibly with outside linebacker T.J. Watt or first-round safety Terrell Edmunds, who has adequate size at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds.

Matakevich has played mostly on special teams and suffered a shoulder injury late last year, but general manager Kevin Colbert has said publicly that Matakevich be in the rotational mix, which the player considers a "little boost of confidence." Williams knows Shazier's skill set -- a linebacker with 4.4 speed and range -- is rare. But that shouldn't stop the Steelers from being productive.

"We don't have another Ryan Shazier on our team," Williams said. "But we do have very capable, starter ready middle linebackers."

Shazier is serving as an unofficial coach this season, helping young linebackers with the defensive scheme during offseason workouts.

The only way to offset the loss of Shazier's speed is having complete control of the defense, Matakevich said. "You just can't miss a step -- really on your p's and q's," Matakevich said. "Pay attention, study, know what's going to happen before it happens."