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