The new league year began officially at 4 PM a week from yesterday. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ free agent crop did not garner a ton of interest initially, but by the close of the first full week of free agency, they had lost three of their own. The latest was inside linebacker Sean Spence, who signed a one-year deal with the Titans to reunite with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The Steelers’ losing Spence is a blow to their inside linebacker depth, without question. The four-year veteran has started 13 games over the course of the past two seasons since overcoming a knee injury and logged several hundred snaps in the process, accumulating 90 tackles and two sacks.
He was their go-to player, for the most part, when Ryan Shazier missed a great deal of time due to injuries over the course of his first two seasons, a security blanket that they won’t have now. But they do have another one in Vince Williams, a three-year veteran who is more of a buck linebacker, but who has logged his share of time on the same field as Lawrence Timmons as well.
There are many, to be sure, who believe that Williams is a better linebacker than is Spence, and that the latter signing elsewhere merely serves to give the former a greater opportunity to log some playing time. Frankly, I’m not sure that I would disagree with that; perhaps the Steelers will be better served with Williams as their third inside linebacker.
Which is, in all likelihood, the role that he will serve this season now that Spence is gone. Though his size makes him a better fit for the buck, the Steelers have over time blended the responsibilities of their inside linebackers, so whether he is on the field with Shazier or Timmons, they can mix and match. Timmons, of course, spent most of his career as a mack linebacker before moving to the buck after the team drafted Shazier.
Over the course of his three-year career, Williams, a former sixth-round draft pick, has never missed a game due to injury and has been active for all but his first game on a roster. He has made 11 starts, nine as a rookie, and compiled 142 tackles (mixed in with special teams work), adding his first pass defensed and half-sack this past season while logging just a bit under 200 snaps on defense.
Of course, the reason that the Steelers have gotten a lot of burn out of their backup linebackers recently has been due to Shazier’s injuries, and they are hoping that they won’t have to get a lot of playing time out of Williams this year, since doing so will most likely mean that Shazier is not staying healthy.
Depending on how they view Timmons’ long-term aspects, it is possible that they could consider allowing Williams to work in some snaps to give the nine-year veteran a breather. As for Williams’ long-term future, it’s hard to say. He in in the final year of his rookie contract now and would like to see some money next offseason, no doubt, when he will be 27.