2022 Offseason Questions: Is The ‘Vince Williams Linebacker’ Really Obsolete?

Williams and Spillane sack Tannehill

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Is the ‘Vince Williams linebacker’ really obsolete?

The former Steelers linebacker, now retired from playing but beginning a career in coaching the game, recently talked to Arthur Moats in an extended interview, which began with a conversation about the end of his career. Entering his ninth season in 2021, Williams abruptly retired just before the start of training camp.

He talked about feeling obsolete, not just within the Steelers’ defense, but as a positional player. His style of play and body type, he believes, are no longer the vehicle through which the game is played at the second level of the defense. A physical run-thumper, Williams was already relegated largely to running down in the past few seasons.

But is the ‘Vince Williams linebacker’ really no more? Surely, we’re probably not going to see many more Zach Thomases these days when the model has become Bobby Wagner and company, but can the Vince Williamses of the football world still find a stable home in the NFL?

Sure, they may cohabitate in a rotation with a more athletic coverage linebacker for a period of time, but would a team ever stop looking for the do-everything linebacker who has the combined skillset of both players? Perhaps not.

The NFL has legislated a lot of the physicality out of the game, as well, making it more difficult to play that ‘enforcer’ role who helps a defense to impose its will on an offense by quite literally beating them up and wearing them down. Still, I would hate to accept the premise that there is no longer room for the next Vince—and just maybe that can be Buddy Johnson.

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