Larry “L.J.” Fort earns lauds at the center of Steelers’ defense

October 13, 2018

On the roster, he’s “L.J.” For the past four seasons around UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, though, he’s been “Larry.”

“That’s my (given) name,” Fort said of Larry, “and (teammates) think it’s funny.

“So they call me that, and I don’t mind it.”

You can call Fort whatever you want as long as he plays as well as he did Sunday during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense’s best game of the season, a 41-17 win against Atlanta. Pairing with Tyler Matakevich to replace the injured Vince Williams at right inside linebacker, Fort played 27 snaps, mostly on passing downs.

Pro Football Focus gave Fort above-average grades. He has a small sample size of one-plus game, but PFF rates Fort as the NFL’s 17th-best linebacker this season.

Fort finished with six tackles, a sack, three quarterback hits and a fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown.

Perhaps most importantly (if less tangible), the Steelers’ defense seemed as well organized as it has all season. While Williams typically wears the “green dot” helmet signifying a radio communication with the sidelines in calling plays, Fort and Matakevich each had one of those helmets against the Falcons.

NFL rules call for only one player on the field at a time to have such a helmet. That meant during special teams one of them had to use a regular, non-electronic helmet.

“That was funky,” Fort said, adding he and Matakevich alternated whose helmet had the dot on special teams snaps.

Up until 10 months ago, it was Ryan Shazier who wore the green dot and called the defense’s plays. When he suffered his neck injury last December, Williams took over those duties.

“Ryan told me being a middle linebacker is the toughest job because you have to run, make the play, get back in the huddle, look at the offensive line, look at the whole personnel breakdown, get the play, communicate it to the whole defense and get back and line up and worry about your job assignment,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. ”(Matakevich and Fort) did a good job of doing that and helped us get away with a win.”

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