Earlier this offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin basically said that the starting jobs across about half of the defense can be deemed as legitimately up for grabs in training camp and the preseason this year. This is, of course, not exactly the norm for a team who won double-digit games, along with a division title, in the year prior.
But that is indeed where the Steelers find themselves, with, arguably, three positions in the secondary, and another three at the linebacker level, open for competition. The defensive line is the only unit on defense that has some manner of stability within the starting lineup.
I believe the most interesting competition to watch will take place at inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons, where there are three players with starting experience, each of whom logged at least 250 snaps a year ago.
The man with the most ridiculous head shot on the team also happens to be the third and final candidate for a starting spot at inside linebacker, and I am naturally talking about third-year player Vince Williams.
A compensatory sixth-round draft selection in the 2013 draft, Williams may have been considered a longshot to make the 53-man roster after the draft, but he proved to be one of the four best inside linebackers for the Steelers that preseason.
After Larry Foote went down in the season opener, the team first went to Kion Wilson, a slightly more veteran player, for two starts in the following weeks, even though Williams ended up logging more snaps. He started the rest of the year.
Of course, the term ‘starter’ in his case comes with a caveat, because the Steelers evolved into a dime base defense over the course of that season, which mean that Williams came off the field a lot, sometimes seeing less than half the team’s snaps in a game.
That’s not to diminish the amount of playing time that he got as a rookie, by any means, because that alone speaks to the fact that he showed well for himself. And that’s why they entrusted him to log significant time last season in the nickel defense last year as the season progressed as well.
Williams is an intelligent player in addition to being a big hitter. He can read what is in front of him well, both against the run and in coverage, though I worry about him moving backward. He has also shown up on the inside blitz from time to time.
I don’t think there’s any question that Williams is entitled to compete for the open linebacker spot, which the head coach himself has acknowledged is a position that is unresolved. But there is one tangential issue related to his winning the job.
Should Williams move into the starting lineup, that would probably slide Timmons over from the buck back to the mack linebacker spot. That wouldn’t necessarily have to change play-calling responsibilities, and the fact of the matter is that Timmons has spent most of his career as the mack linebacker, but one has to wonder if the team would want to do this after just moving him over.