The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
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 offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Do the Steelers intend to scale back the special-teams snaps of Vince Williams as he enters the starting lineup? And can they afford to?
Generally speaking, it tends to go without saying that as a player takes on more responsibilities on offense or defense, his role tends to be reduced when it comes to special teams. In 2015, the Steelers took special-teams snaps away from Antwon Blake as he began to start games. Last year, they curtailed Robert Golden’s duties for the same reason.
This year, it’s fifth-year inside linebacker Vince Williams who is transitioning from reserve to starter, and the inevitable question has been raised about what that means for Danny Smith, the team’s special-teams coordinator.
While he hasn’t been the captain of the unit—that would actually be Golden, Williams has been instrumental in much of the success that the Steelers have had on special teams over the course of the past four seasons, or since his rookie season.
Generally speaking, he is good for double-digit tackles every year, and he tends to log 250-300 snaps as well. But this year he is expected to potentially double the number of total snaps on defense that he has taken over the course of his career. Adding another 200-plus snaps to his season under an increased workload may be asking too much.
It would seem fairly likely that the Steelers are going to take away a lot of Williams’ special-teams snaps so that he can focus on transitioning to a full-time starter on defense. But I do think that, as much as they might miss his tone-setting abilities on the unit, that they have other players who can step up into the role.
Roosevelt Nix has already become a standout. Anthony Chickillo and Tyler Matakevich also took significant steps on special teams last year. And lest we forget, the Steelers just added two athletic, hustle-oriented outside linebackers to their roster during the draft with T.J. Watt and Keion Adams. Williams is one of their two or three best and most important special-teams players, but they can adjust.