By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers appear poised to get more use out of their defensive rookies than they have in a long time tonight as they take on James Harrison and the Cincinnati Bengals. One of those young defensive players will be Harrison’s replacement, and the team’s first draft selection this year, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
There have been reports that Jarvis Jones will indeed be starting tonight over fourth-year veteran Jason Worilds, who started the week before in the loss to the Tennessee Titans. Should that indeed be the case, then you can expect his snap count to rise considerably from the 30 snaps that he logged in Week One.
Worilds played 46 of the defense’s snaps 68 snaps, but you can expect that to decline considerably as well with Jones starting. The Steelers likely will continue to rotate their inside linebackers, but it will now presumably be Worilds on the shallow end of the snap counter rather than Jones.
The Steelers may even break out a three outside linebacker look, which had been mentioned a time or two during the preseason as a special sub package, likely in blitzing situations. Jarvis Jones in particular is strong as an interior blitzer, and with Larry Foote being replaced by Kion Wilson after his season-ending injury, the Steelers may be looking for ways to keep Wilson on the sidelines due to his inexperience, as they once did with Stevenson Sylvester in 2011.
Another rookie is also poised to see a lot of playing time on defense as well, as safety Shamarko Thomas is now, for the time being, the slot corner for the Steelers with Cortez Allen out of the lineup due to an ankle injury. The injury forces William Gay into the starting lineup, and with Curtis Brown also likely out, there are not a lot of options.
Thomas already played 10 snaps on defense last week when Allen left the game with his injury, and he figures to double that if not more during this game. If he performs well, he could force himself into a rotation with Gay as the nickel based on the situation for the remainder of the season.
Yet another defensive rookie, Vince Williams, could see some time on defense as well, especially if Wilson should struggle. He spent his first game in the league on the inactive list due to the evident belief of the coaching staff that Terence Garvin is a bigger asset on special teams than Williams.
I first thought that Williams may be the first choice to replace Foote, and that Wilson only replaced him after he was injured because Williams was inactive, but he appears poised to start this week, and perhaps for the rest of the season as well, unless Williams wrestles that position away from him at some point during the year.
Still, he could see time on defense tonight, especially in passing situations of intermediate distance. The Bengals have a lot of targets with size, and it may require a linebacker with speed to match up.