By Matthew Marczi
Following the ruptured biceps injury suffered by Pittsburgh Steelers starting inside linebacker Larry Foote, who was just placed on injured reserve, it goes without saying that the team must turn to somebody else now at the position after Foote played nearly every snap just a season ago.
In Sunday’s loss, Kion Wilson replaced him on defense, playing nine snaps in the process. Terence Garvin was also dressed for special teams purposes. Of course, Wilson was also dressed primarily for special teams purposes as well before injuries forced him to log snaps on defense.
Conversely, rookie sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams was left without a helmet on game day because the team obviously believed that Wilson and Garvin would be bigger assets on special teams.
Given that, one should definitely not rule out the possibility of the Steelers not only dressing Williams on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, but also having him start in place of Foote, next to Lawrence Timmons, who will be taking over the signal-calling responsibilities for the remainder of the year, most likely.
The bottom of the roster earns its game day hats by what it can offer on special teams, particularly at positions such as wide receiver, defensive back, and, of course, linebacker. Thus, just because Williams was not dressed for Week One does not mean that he would not be the first player the coaches turn to to replace an injured starter on defense.
Remember, Williams was promoted to second-team inside linebacker after the first wave of cuts that saw Stevenson Sylvester released following an ankle injury that limited him to just one snap in the preseason.
In fact, I even speculated that Marshall McFadden could be brought back as a candidate to start Week Two, since his release was primarily predicated on his unimpressive special teams performance, which would be rendered moot for whoever ultimately starts.
Vince Williams came to this team with a low pedigree as a late sixth-round pick and a lot of question marks, particularly that surrounding his ability to cover, because he was a two-down linebacker in college.
However, he spent the offseason and the preseason games answering all the questions about him to not only make the final roster, but to continue to stick following the flurry of last-minute roster cosmetics the Steelers employed through the waiver wire.
In fact, if you consider the data from Pro Football Focus, Williams had an excellent preseason campaign, during which he graded out as the third-highest inside linebacker across the entire league in his 89 snaps, trailing just Daryl Smith and Dane Fletcher.
His overall score of 5.3 was even more impressive considering it included a positive grading in every aspect, from stopping the run to rushing the passer, and even in coverage. Kion Wilson also graded out well, but nobody else on the team came close Williams’ grade.
Of course, none of that really means much of anything, and it will come down to the coaches to decide who replaces Foote. Perhaps they saw enough of Wilson in his few snaps replacing Foote on Sunday to feel comfortable sticking with him. Or perhaps they will give a certain segment of fans their wish earlier than anticipated in making Williams the heir apparent at inside linebacker.