The next time the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field, the defense is going to have a very different look, with Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Steven Nelson, and Vince Williams all gone from last year’s starting lineup. In terms of leadership and spirit, the loss of Williams, who like Nelson was a salary cap casualty, might sting the most.
A sixth-round pick out of Florida State in 2013, his was an underdog story. A thumper at the buck in an age when the position is gravitating toward a more rangy body type, he defied the odds and showed that his style of play still works today. And he showed the way for others.
“Vince is one of the people that I’ve very strongly looked up to since they’ve won in Pittsburgh”, Robert Spillane told reporters earlier today during a Zoom interview session. “He’s a guy that goes about his business the right way. He plays football the right way. The energy he brings to a defense is infectious, and his ability to really rally guys together, get guys going on the same page, is a high-end trait of his”.
Though Steelers coaches were never shy about pointing out their assessment of his liabilities in coverage, they nevertheless never hesitated to bring him on the field and to give him the green dot on his helmet, though that changed this past season, first worn by Devin Bush, and then Robert Spillane—and then Avery Williamson.
As the longest-tenured defensive player on the team short of Cameron Heyward, though, Williams was a respected leader and energy-bringer, one of the guys that probably even his teammates associated with an ‘old school’ Steelers mentality. But the show must go on, as they say.
“We’re gonna miss Vince, and all that means is it’s time for myself and Devin to step up and be leaders of the position group”, Spillane said. “I think we’re both looking at it as a challenge, but also as an opportunity. We’ll be ready when OTAs start to get our guys going”.
The Steelers don’t have much at linebacker right now behind Bush. Spillane is the most experienced, while Gilbert returns after two stints on the Reserve/Injured List just last season alone with a back injury that also ended his rookie season.
Also returning is Marcus Allen, who converted from safety a year ago. They signed Miles Killebrew from the Detroit Lions, a hybrid player whom they list as a linebacker on the site’s roster. Practice squad players Tegray Scales and Christian Kuntz round out the options.
Will the Steelers add here in free agency or the draft? The latter, I presume, is likely. As far as free agency goes, Killebrew was probably the addition there. But nobody will be a one-for-one replacement for Williams, something his former coaches and teammates know, and won’t forget.