2019 Training Camp Battles: Starting ILBs

It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.

Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.

And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.

Position: Inside Linebacker

Up for Grabs: Starting Jobs

In the Mix: Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Devin Bush

This is a bit of a rarity, as right now there are not one but two jobs potentially up for grabs in the heart of the Steelers’ defense. For the time being, the coaching staff appears to be viewing each of Vince Williams, Mark Barron, and Devin Bush as potential starters for two jobs. That’s one player too many.

Williams is the only incumbent on the team, Bush being a rookie and Barron a veteran free agent signing. He has been the starting mack linebacker for the past two seasons and has averaged about 800 snaps per season. He stayed on the field in passing situations in 2018 more than he did the year before, but that’s when Ryan Shazier was still playing.

Barron and Bush could fulfill that Shazier coverage component to the inside linebacker position that may turn Williams into more of a sub-package player in 2019, where he plays primarily in the 3-4 defense while the other, more athletic linebackers take the field in obvious passing situations.

There is a good chance that there may not be two clear-cut starters, but rather an admixture of all three players being used in different combinations. That is, at least, until Bush is able to secure a permanent and every-down role for himself.

Given that they traded up 10 spots in the first round to get into the top 10 to draft him, it’s safe to say that that is exactly how they are viewing him and his potential, and I don’t think they would have any particular objections if he shows that sooner rather than later.

With that said, both Williams and Barron are capable players who will have roles in the defense in 2019, whether it’s full-time starting roles or otherwise. I think it’s safe to say that all three of them will have meaningful playing time on defense in some form or fashion.

I believe the biggest obstacle toward that would be if it were to be Bush an Barron who look the best this summer. Should that be the case, Williams could be the odd man out, seeing little playing time. But even then, there would be a role for him against bigger offensive packages, as neither of the other top linebackers have the ideal size you would want against 22 personnel. His effectiveness on the blitz also keeps him in the mix for passing situations. It should be a very interesting time in Latrobe studying this position.

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