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Defensive Rookies Taking Advantage Of Job Openings

By Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to get any production out of their young offensive draft picks this year. Yet they have a rookie starting at right outside linebacker, a rookie manning the slot corner position, and yet another rookie in a heavy rotation at inside linebacker that saw him play half the team’s defensive snaps in his first career game.

Are we living in bizarro world?

Between Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas, and Vince Williams, Steelers defensive rookies logged a total of 132 snaps on defense. When is the last time the Steelers had such contributions from rookies on the defensive side of the ball, whether by necessity or opportunity?

Pacing the group was the team’s top pick from the first round, Jones, who played a total of 60 snaps on defense, out of 84 overall defensive plays for the Steelers. He has supplanted veteran Jason Worilds, who logged just 27 snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals after playing most of the season opener.

Thomas—due to the injury to Cortez Allen—was the next man up as the nickel back, and he put in 29 snaps on defense after taking 10 snaps in the first game following Allen’s injury. Allen seems questionable to play this week as well, so it looks as though Thomas is lined up for another week of heavy action.

The big surprise, however, was Vince Williams, who ended up playing about half of the game at inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons, even though he was not the starter. Williams ended up playing 43 snaps.

Meanwhile, Kion Wilson, the linebacker that the Steelers ostensibly turned to in order to replace the injured Larry Foote in the lineup, saw just 21 snaps, or exactly a quarter of the team’s defensive snaps.

Is this the sign of another pendulum swing in a rotation? Last week, Worilds started at outside linebacker and played the majority of the snaps only to be replaced in the starting lineup this week and see his snap count drop significantly.

Kion Wilson replaced Foote in the season opener after his injury for a handful of snaps—Vince Williams was not dressed for the game due to special teams needs—and was named the starter after the game. But it was not too long into the second game that Williams began logging snaps, and he ultimately saw twice as much action as Wilson.

Whether this was a scheme or personnel circumstance is yet to be seen, but the snap counts indicate that the Steelers may be heading in the direction of starting Vince Williams in the near future. If the Steelers happen to begin the next game in the nickel, they very well could technically be starting three rookies on defense.

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