Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: ILB Vince Williams
Stock Value: Even
What does the 2020 season hold for Vince Williams? That’s why it’s hard to get a read on where he stands right now in terms of his stock. While his playing time was curtailed substantially last year, seeing his snap out halved, or worse, he did perform well when he was on the field.
Given the anticipated salary cap necessities for the 2020 offseason, however, it’s being widely anticipated that Mark Barron, signed to a two-year deal as a free agent in 2020, will be a casualty of that endless juggling process. Barron and rookie Devin Bush were responsible for the vast majority of the inside linebacker snaps in 2019, but if Barron is released, Williams will be right back in the mix.
Even assuming that does happen, however, there are still creative ways in which the Steelers could work to keep him off the field, if that is what they desire, since they largely appear to want to protect him against playing in obvious passing situations.
As they have done in the past, they can make significant use of the dime defense, using six defensive backs, one of whom replaces the buck linebacker. Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne, or perhaps even Marcus Allen or somebody not yet on the roster, could serve in that role.
One other alternative I could see hearkens back to Williams’ early career, when Terence Garvin was still around. Garvin came in the same year, only as a rookie minicamp invitee. He earned his spot on special teams, but as the season progressed, the athletic linebacker began to replace Williams in passing situations.
Ulysees Gilbert III, a sixth-round pick a year ago, could be Garvin 2.0, seeing snaps here and there in passing situations while keeping two inside linebackers on the field. He did a lot of work in coverage already while he was in college, a trait they valued when they drafted him.
Or, you know, they could just let Williams play. They do trust him—he is the second-longest-tenured defender on the team right now short of Cameron Heyward—and he has played plenty. But we won’t really know what their plan it for a while yet.