Last season, inside linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons played in all 16 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers and both very rarely came off of the field. Now that the roster has been trimmed down to 53 players, the Steelers primary backups to both those players are rookie Vince Williams and Kion Wilson.
Williams, who the Steelers drafted in the sixth-round this past April out of Florida State, played well during the preseason as he led the team in total tackles as the BUCK linebacker on the third-team defense.
While we only have 111 preseason snaps to go on, Williams seems to have progressed in his ability to drop into coverage, which was a major concern about him coming out of the draft. As expected, he also played well downhill against the run and appears to be a reliable tackler when he brings his feet with him.
Like Williams, Wilson also played well during the preseason as he collected 10 total tackles and was force on special teams. The main concern, however, about both these new inside linebackers is the fact that neither has played a snap in a regular-season game.
Should Foote or Timmons end up missing time in 2013 with an injury, you would have to think that Williams would be the first one off the bench, being as he best suited to play the BUCK role. In other words, if Timmons were to get injured, Foote would likely assume more of a MACK role.
The good thing about the BUCK and MACK positions with the Steelers over the last few years is that they have blurred in their responsibilities as the team now prefers their inside linebackers to be able to play both positions and linebackers coach Keith Butler has even said as much in interviews.
The best-case scenario for the Steelers in 2013 would include both Foote and Timmons once again staying healthy and on the field. While Williams has been a fast learner, he is bound to make his share of mistakes being as it usually takes at least a full season for a Steelers linebacker to fully grasp the defense.
Should Timmons wind up going down, the Steelers could be in trouble as those are some pretty big shoes that not even Foote will be able to fill should he be the one to assume his role.
It is unfortunate for the Steelers that Stevenson Sylvester never panned out and even more unfortunate that Sean Spence missed his rookie season due to a serious knee suffered last season. Spence will start the 2013 season on the Reserve PUP list, but being as the team decided to keep only four inside linebackers, perhaps it is a sign that they think their third-round draft pick from last year will be able to play after missing the first six-weeks of the season.
One can only hope that is indeed the case as the Steelers lack of depth at the inside linebacker position currently rivals that of their offensive line. A healthy Spence, even though he has yet to play in a regular season game like Williams and Wilson, would help out tremendously.