The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Sunday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills down their top three inside linebackers. Devin Bush had long been on the Reserve/Injured List because of a torn ACL. Vince Williams is currently on the Reserve/Covid-19 List. Now Robert Spillane was placed on the Reserve/Injured List with a short-term knee injury.
That left them incredibly thin at the position, but they did get a sliver of good news before the game, as they were able to activate Ulysees Gilbert III from the Reserve/Injured List to provide depth. Avery Williamson, acquired just before the trade deadline, was their every-down linebacker for the game, but Gilbert and Marcus Allen split the rest of the inside linebacker snaps for the game.
And they will have to continue to do that until at least Williams gets back, which is not guaranteed to happen in time for the team’s next game. Based on his social media posts, he has made it pretty clear that he not only tested positive but is symptomatic.
The Steelers have placed a number of players on the Reserve/Covid-19 List this year, and a few of them spent more than the minimum amount of time required for those who test positive and are symptomatic. Both tight end Vance McDonald and lineman Kevin Dotson spent more than two weeks on the list, so we can’t just assume Williams will be back after 10 days.
In other words, they may well need even more of Gilbert and Allen down the stretch, at least for their next game against the Cincinnati Bengals, until Williams is able to make his way back, not just from the Reserve/Covid-19 List, but also into football shape.
The two of them did record stats. Williamson led the defense—led both teams—with a game-high 11 tackles, including nine as the primary tackler. Allen, who did in fact play snaps at linebacker, finished the game with eight tackles of his own, tied for the second-most on the team (and in the game) with safety Terrell Edmunds. One of them was a tackle for loss.
Gilbert saw fewer snaps than Allen, who was also featured in their dime defense as the ‘dimebacker’, but he also contributed two tackles in the game on defense. The second-year linebacker also had two tackles on special teams.
The fact that he was even on the field is notable, considering that he had been on the Reserve/Injured List for a number of weeks already, and he had just begun to practice. It seems likely that he has probably been healthy enough to practice for a while, but they saw no reason to open his 21-day activation window until there was an opening.