As the calendar has finally hit the late-July date that signals the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we turn our attentions for the next few weeks to just that, training camp, the necessary respite for all football fans who have been the past six weeks wondering what to do with themselves—as least as far as the game goes.
With the start of training camp also comes the start of meaningful competition, and I’m not just talking about players getting to put on pads and smash into each other. There are battles to be won. Position battles, roster battles. Battles for starting jobs.
Before we get too deep into the swing of training camp, here is a quick series that provides a preview of some of the most significant battles that will have to be determined over the course of training camp and the preseason, though the regular season can always decide to change the results.
It’s really not going to be much of a battle, but I think it should be discussed anyway. When it comes to the starting inside linebacker position, the Steelers are experiencing a major changing of the guard, with the buck role being passed on from Lawrence Timmons to Vince Williams this year.
Part of the reason that it is notable to have this discussion is simply due to the fact that the Steelers did make an attempt to address the position this offseason. They brought in Dont’a Hightower for a visit during free agency and hosted him for virtually a whole day, making him what was reported to be a competitive contract offer.
It didn’t work, but they were comfortable in moving on with Williams, or so they said, even before going after Hightower. It was just a shot at upgrading the position with a player that they already liked a lot when he was coming out of college.
It doesn’t really seem as though the fifth-year veteran is going to get much, if any competition, however, for his starting job, and it’s not as though there are many notable contenders. The only returning inside linebackers of note are Steven Johnson, L.J. Fort, and Tyler Matakevich.
None of them are likely to be given much if any snaps with the first-team defense over the course of the next month, especially given the fact that Williams could use those snaps to get adjusted with working with the first-team defense on a regular basis.
The one thing to watch here will actually be to monitor what sort of packages they might use on obvious passing downs. Will they try to get him off the field some, or will they trust his abilities to play in coverage?
Robert Golden or perhaps another cornerback could be used as a sixth defensive back on select occasions, which is something that they have dabbled with seriously to varying degrees since Williams’ rookie season.