By Matthew Marczi
The writing has been on the wall for the past two weeks, and perhaps this week will be the one that converts words into action. Since the Week One season-ending injury to inside linebacker Larry Foote, the Pittsburgh Steelers have spent the past two weeks deploying their shiny new backup linebackers—Kion Wilson and Vince Williams—in an uneven platoon in order to assume those lost snaps from their starter.
Kion Wilson has been the starter for the past two weeks—but perhaps only in name. That is because Vince Williams has been seeing the bulk of the snaps at the Buck linebacker position, which includes calling out the plays to the defense, which is an especially big responsibility for a rookie.
In each of the past two weeks, Williams has played approximately half of the team’s defensive snaps, while Wilson has played about a quarter of the snaps. The other quarter, of course, was played in the dime package with safeties Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden, which affords Troy Polamalu to play a more quasi-linebacker role where he can be most effective. Expect that look to continue throughout the season, and perhaps beyond.
Yesterday, Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider spoke to Williams after practice. Williams reportedly took every rep in yesterday’s practice with the first-team defense, but according to Wexell, he would not go so far as to say that he felt that was an indication that he would start on Sunday.
Wexell, and I, respectfully disagree with the young man. To that end, the Steelers have updated their depth chart to list Wilson and Williams as co-starters as well, this just a big, fat “or” separating the rookie from the starting spot now.
Vince Williams has come a long way since he was drafted with the Steelers’ compensatory pick in the sixth round of this past draft. I have already detailed much of his progression in previous articles, so it is unnecessary to rehash it further here.
Suffice it to say that while it may be a surprise to see a sixth round rookie starting at the Buck linebacker position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, when you take a bit of a closer look at the situation, it really is not that surprising.
Williams was arguably the team’s best player on defense during the preseason. While he has had some growing pains and some miscues during his first two games of action, he has also shown a lot of promise, and the team obviously feels comfortable with the way he has been able to communicate the defense.
Williams is already logging the starter’s snaps in this scenario. It is time to give him the title to go along with it. Mike Tomlin said that he will continue to rotate both linebackers in until one of them seizes the position, and it appears that time will be soon. Get ready for a Dick LeBeau defense that starts not one, but two rookie linebackers.