It seemed earlier in the offseason that the Pittsburgh Steelers, as it pertains to their starting lineups, would not be dealt to bad a blow. The only defector in free agency as a starter who was eligible to do so was veteran inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, and the team already knew well this would be a possibility the year before.
The past week, however, has seen turnover in the other two phases of the game as well, with longtime long snapper Greg Warren ending his career and the Steelers releasing tight end Ladarius Green, whom they brought in to take over the starting role at the position last year.
So the team now has three holes in the starting lineup to fill, and you know what that means: next man up.
There won’t, I would think, be much of any competition for any of these jobs, as Pittsburgh would seem to already have their replacements in hand, or at least a committee of options that may be used in conjunction with one another to attempt to replicate what is missing.
But the pressure is on now for three players, primarily, those being inside linebacker Vince Williams, a fifth-year player who has had spot duty as a starter in the past; Jesse James, a third-year former fifth-round pick who already spent most of the 2016 season functioning as the top tight end while Green was out; and Colin Holba, the rookie sixth-round long snapper that had everybody at the time scratching their heads.
Working our way from the back to the front, Holba is the player that we know least about, of course, given that he is entering the league this year as a rookie draft pick. He was a walk-on and started at long snapper for the past two seasons. The Steelers had a draftable grade on him due to his size and the consistency of his ball placement, so, ideally, we won’t hear his name again until he signs a contract extension in four years.
James is perhaps the most interesting discussion in part because of how different he is from Green. He isn’t much of a vertical threat, but he has at times exhibited a knack for finding the holes in zone coverage. He has been inconsistent in making the tough catches, and his ability to generate yards after the catch is something that must be worked on, but he is still developing as a 22-year-old.
Finally, there’s Williams, who has already been here for four years and has logged over 1000 snaps on defense over that span of time. We do have a lot of work on tape already. What we don’t have is data about how he would hold up over an extended period of time.
It would seem to me that the Steelers will have to determine just how many snaps they can count on from both James and Williams, and how frequently they will have to be supplemented by other options depending on the situation. But that is just part of the uncertainty of the process of breaking in new starters.