Intriguing Steelers rookie ILB Matthew Thomas takes practice reps at outside linebacker
Matthew Thomas has all the measurables to be an NFL linebacker, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers short on depth at inside linebacker he’s an intriguing candidate to make the team.
At practice Monday, Thomas showed some coveted position-flexibility, too.
Thomas took some reps at outside linebacker during the Steelers’ rain-delayed practice at Saint Vincent College. Thomas rushed the passer from the right side of the defense in the “Seven Shots” two-point conversion simulation at the start of the practice, and he also was spotted rushing the passer from the edge at times during later team drills.
“I think (the coaching staff) knows I can passrush a bit - they just don’t know the extent of it,” Thomas said afterward. “So they tried me at it a little bit. Today the numbers (at outside linebacker) were down on the outside... I guess they want to see how I rush against some of the tackles that we got.”
The Steelers were without their top three outside linebackers Monday: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo. But Thomas also played on the edge at times during in the Steelers’ preseason opener at Philadelphia last week.
The 6-3, 232-pound Thomas was a standout at the NFL combine, and he has athletic pedigree that had him pegged as one of the country’s top recruits out of high school six years ago. But his production at Florida State never totally matched up to all that potential.
Thomas played on the inside in a 3-4 defense for Florida State but he was at times asked to rush the passer (he had two sacks last season). The Steelers have evolved in recent years in regards to what they ask their inside ’backers to do; Vince Williams was second on the team with eight sacks last year.
But can Thomas rush the passer in the NFL?
“I definitely think I could,” he said. “Coach had mentioned something to me about third-down packages, if that was to be my role or whatever to see how I could do as far as rushing the passer and just take steps forward to that (in case) it came to that.”
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