Matake­vich re­turns to Philly

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

Ev­ery jour­ney be­gins with the first step.

Or in the case of Steel­ers line­backer Tyler Matake­vich, who led Tem­ple in tack­les ev­ery time out last year, the first tackle.

Last week Matake­vich bar­reled down Heinz Field late in the fourth quar­ter with team­mate Sen­quez Gol­son, who herded Ben­gals punt re­turner Adam Jones to­ward him.

Matake­vich lifted Pac­man off his feet and dumped him hard to the ground at the 25-yard line of the Ben­gals with just three min­utes left in a one-pos­ses­sion game.

The Steel­ers pre­vailed, in part due to that form tackle.

“Ah­h­h­hhh,” Matake­vich howled. “The guy sort of got tripped up and I came in and fin­ished him. But it’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be the first of many.”

The in­spi­ra­tional story of Tyler Matake­vich comes full cir­cle Sun­day when the Steel­ers op­pose the Ea­gles at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field. If some­one says you’re not good enough do­ing this or that you might even get a lift look­ing for No. 44 in spe­cial teams sit­u­a­tions.

The Linc is where Matake­vich (6-1, 235), who was sup­posed to be too small to play ter­rific foot­ball, reg­is­tered roughly half of his school-record 493 ca­reer tack­les. It’s where he led Tem­ple to vic­tory over Penn State for the first time in eons, where he helped the Owls stretch Notre Dame to the limit and where he be­came the first de­fen­sive player Cherry and the White his­tory to earn first-team Al­lAmer­ica hon­ors. It’s home. Al­ways will be. “The past four years I’ve played a lot of ball games at the Linc,” Matake­vich said. “Now, it’s just with a dif­fer­ent team. I can’t wait to be back at the Linc and run­ning around again.”

Crit­ics who said Matake­vich was too small, too slow, too this and too that to play pro­fes­sional foot­ball will dis­miss him as just a spe­cial teams player.

The role re­ally ius no dif­fer­ent than the one he played for Tem­ple foot­ball coach Matt Rhule, who he keeps in con­stant touch with. It’s the what­ever-it­takes duty.

“My role right now is a spe­cial teams role, and I’m just try­ing to do that the best I can and help this team win,” Matake­vich said. “I pre­pare through­out the week at line­backer, too. I’m just try­ing to learn this de­fense bet­ter and bet­ter.”

The Steel­ers took Matake­vich off the board with the 246th pick, long af­ter Owls team­mates Tavon Young (fourth round) and Mike Ioan­ni­dis (fifth) were drafted by the Ravens and Wash­ing­ton.

It also was be­fore the Ea­gles se­lected Ore­gon in­side line­backer Joe Walker (6-2, 236) with the third-to-last pick in the 253-man draft. Pri­vately the Ea­gles had in­ter­est.

“I never had the chance to talk about that with any­one over there,” Matake­vich said. “But I mean I’m just happy that I’m with the Steel­ers or­ga­ni­za­tion. They’ve re­ally treated me so well. I’m just look­ing for­ward to com­ing to work ev­ery day, you know what I mean?”

The Steel­ers (2-0) look ev­ery bit like that pop­u­lar pre­sea­son pick to reach the Su­per Bowl. Quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger, wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown and the of­fense barely have worked up a sweat putting up im­pres­sive vic­to­ries.

The Steeler de­fense is an in­ter­est­ing mix of young and old play­ers. Head coach Mike Tom­lin in­di­cated that Matake­vich even­tu­ally would be part of it.

“He has great in­stincts and ur­gency,” Tom­lin said. “He gets to the ball. He’s around the ball. He makes a lot of plays … He’s ac­cli­mat­ing him­self right now, in terms of be­ing one of our core spe­cial teams con­trib­u­tors. I can’t see why he can’t be great in that area while he con­tin­ues to grow as a young line­backer. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”

Matake­vich has watched a lot of film on rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz, who has guided the Ea­gles to a 2-0 start. Let’s just say Matake­vich ap­pre­ci­ates Wentz’s in­stincts and in­tel­li­gence.

“He’s a good quar­ter­back,” Matake­vich said. “He’s smart. The coaches set him up great. They have a script and they stick to it. I mean, he does a great job on film just fig­ur­ing out what de­fense we’re in and things like that. And those are things that make him so spe­cial.”

Matake­vich doubts the Steel­ers will ar­rive early enough for him to watch the Owls play Char­lotte Satur­day at the Linc. But he hopes to con­nect with Rhule and pos­si­bly other team­mates.

The Owls (1-2) are tak­ing their lumps. When Matake­vich watches their games, he sees a team that plays hard yet is one or two plays away from mak­ing it hap­pen.

The way Matake­vich sees it, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore Rhule, the coach­ing staff and the Owls find a way to win reg­u­larly agai. Es­pe­cially Rhule.

“With­out him, I wouldn’t be here,” Matake­vich said. “I’ve built a re­la­tion­ship over the past few years that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I’m so thank­ful for him and ev­ery­thing he’s done for me.”

••• The Ea­gles will op­pose the Steel­ers with­out the ser­vices of starters Zach Ertz and Leodis McKelvin.

Doug Ped­er­son is hope­ful both play­ers will be back af­ter the bye to take on the Lions Oct. 9.

“I’m pre­pared for both him and Leo to be ready to go af­ter the break,” Ped­er­son said. “And hope­fully a lot of other guys, too, will take the time to get rested and be full strength.”

The Ea­gles are en­cour­aged by Ertz’s re­hab for a dis­placed first rib. The tight end is back in the weight room and show­ing no signs of the in­jury.

“It’s heal­ing it­self up,” Ped­er­son said. “He’s been able to get in the weight room and lift and do some strength and con­di­tion­ing stuff with the guys. He’s been on the field run­ning. So it’s re­ally pro­gress­ing well.”

Like, Ertz, McKelvin (ham­string) will miss his sec­ond straight game. Vet­eran Ron Brooks again will start at cor­ner, with rookie Jalen Mills help­ing out in dif­fer­ent pack­ages.

Rookie guard Isaac Seu­malo (pec­toral mus­cle) also will sit out Sun­day. But he’s not the first op­tion when and if the Ea­gles have to shuf­fle the of­fen­sive line due to Lane John­son’s sit­u­a­tion. John­son is ap­peal­ing a 10-game sus­pen­sion for us­ing PEDs.

Ped­er­son said vet­eran Ste­fen Wis­niewski would start at left guard if Allen Bar­bre has to move to right tackle to re­place John­son.

“With him miss­ing th­ese last cou­ple of weeks,” Ped­er­son said of Seu­malo, “go­ing for­ward it would prob­a­bly be Wiz mov­ing into that spot if some­thing hap­pens. But yeah, I ex­pect Isaac back.”

••• The Ea­gles and the Steel­ers both are 2-0.

The Steel­ers are fa­vored by 3 1-2 points.

••• West Ch­ester Uni­ver­sity prod­uct Al-Hajj Shabazz (6-2, 200), a cor­ner­back, is part of the Steel­ers’ prac­tice squad.

BLOOMS­BURG (2-1) AT CHEYNEY (1-2) 1 p.m. at O’Shield’s-Steven­son Sta­dium Ra­dio: none. What’s at Stake: The Wolves never re­ally had a chance against su­pe­rior PSAC West pow­ers In­di­ana (Pa.) and Cal­i­for­nia (Pa.) the last two out­ings, and were outscored by a com­bined 134-3. They’ve been un­able to cap­i­tal­ize on the sea­son open­ing win ver­sus Lin­coln, and they are the heavy un­der­dog in this one. And even though Blooms­burg still wins with de­fense and a pun­ish­ing run­ning game, the Huskies don’t seem to do ei­ther as well as they used to. If Cheyney can keep this one close and com­pet­i­tive, it would be a pos­i­tive sign for later bat­tles with strug­gling PSAC East foes like Lock Haven and Millersville. His­tory: The Huskies lead the all-time se­ries 46-9-1. Keys to the Game: Blooms­burg does not have an ex­plo­sive of­fense, so if CU can limit the Huskies pos­ses­sions, they may be able to stick around. Run­ners Lawrence El­liott and Joe Parsnik are among the con­fer­ence’s top-11 ball car­ri­ers, so the Wolves should sell out to stop the run and dare QB Chris Palu­binksy to beat them through the air. De­vel­op­ing much of­fen­sively is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult against a Blooms­burg de­fense that is 4th over­all in the PSAC. And it doesn’t help that Cheyney QB Dominick Trautz is strug­gling with 1 TD, 6 INTs and a com­plet­ing passes at just 37 per­cent.

Pre­dic­tion: Blooms­burg 30, Cheyney 6.

LIN­COLN (1-2) AT ST. AU­GUS­TINE’S (0-3) 1 p.m. at Ge­orge Wil­liams Ath­letic Com­plex Ra­dio: none What’s at Stake: This is the CIAA opener for both, although it is not a di­vi­sion con­test. The Lions will open the CIAA North­ern Di­vi­sion slate on Oct. 8 at Vir­ginia Union. Lin­coln didn’t fare well mov­ing up to play FCS More­head State last week­end (56-6 set­back), but the Fal­cons are a strug­gling Di­vi­sion II pro­gram who was 1-10 a year ago and is still look­ing for its first win. This clash will give head coach Herb Pick­ens and his staff a much more ac­cu­rate barom­e­ter of where his squad is through four games.

His­tory: St. Au­gus­tine’s has won both meet­ings, top­ping the Lions in 2010 and 2011.

Keys to the Game: One of the big­gest con­cerns so far is that LU has not been able to get TB Stephon Scott and its run­ning game un­tracked. An all-con­fer­ence per­former last year, Scott is av­er­ag­ing less than 60 yards per game and just 3.2 yards per carry. St. Au­gus­tine’s has been outscored 175-21 so far this sea­son, which is an in­di­ca­tion that the Fal­cons have strug­gled might­ily. QB D.J. John­son has pedes­trian num­bers through the air, but he also leads the team in rush­ing (53 yards per game). His fa­vorite tar­get is WR Sam Boyd, who is sixth in the CIAA with 22 catches for 193 yards and 2 TDs. Pre­dic­tion: Lin­coln 28, St. Au­gus­tine’s 21.

— Neil Geoghe­gan

DOUG KAPUSTIN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tyler Matake­vich of the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers sprints down the field dur­ing a kick­off against the Cincin­nati Ben­gals last Sun­day.

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