2016 South Side Questions: Will Steelers Rotate ILBs To Replace Shazier?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Will the Steelers rotate at the inside linebacker position in order to compensate for injury?

As we learned yesterday, Pittsburgh Steelers third-year starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier has been ruled out for the team’s game tomorrow in Kansas City, the first game of the year that he is expected to miss since tweaking his knee in the season opener. He was able to play through in against the Bengals, be re-aggravated his MCL injury on Sunday against the Eagles.

In his place, fourth-year inside linebacker Vince Williams confirmed that he is going to start, actually making his first start since the 2014 season, during which he had two starts also filling in for Shazier. But before the team drafted the first-rounder, Williams was tasked with starting 11 games as a rookie in 2013.

Still, it would not be surprising if we end up seeing some sort of defensive rotation at the mack linebacker position, especially given the fact that we have already seen L.J. Fort for an extended amount of time. Through three games, Fort has logged 38 snaps on defense, while Williams has also seen 53 snaps, but the majority of his playing time came in Lawrence Timmons’ role.

It has seemed, at times, that the Steelers have preferred to play Fort when Shazier is out, perhaps because they have a higher opinion of Fort’s coverage ability paired with Timmons, while Williams is a more natural replacement for the buck position. Whether or not that translates to a rotation, which we have seen the past two years, remains to be seen.

Shazier missed 11 games over the course of his first two seasons, and Williams saw plenty of playing time filling in for him, but he did so working in a rotation with Sean Spence. At times, it was based on personnel packages, mostly in 2014, but last year, it went more by series.

Will Williams play the whole game? After all, there must be a reason that they just signed him to two more extra years. Or will they ask him to come on and off the field while mixing and matching with Fort in order to get what they feel is their best defensive look based on circumstance or energy level? Might Timmons even be subbed out and spelled after spending part of last Sunday in the hospital?

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