By Matthew Marczi
After the Pittsburgh Steelers quickly realized that they were better-served turning the inside linebacker spot over to rookie Vince Williams, the primary responsibility for Kion Wilson once again shifted back to special teams, which is what got him a spot on the active roster in the first place.
Earlier this week, the Steelers released Wilson following a hamstring injury in order to re-sign linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who was also known for his special teams contributions during his three years with the team before being released in the first round of cuts this preseason after suffering an ankle injury.
But perhaps Wilson’s special teams contributions during the regular season were not as great as advertised; perhaps that also played a role in his release.
Unlike DaMon Cromartie-Smith, who was also released this week in order to re-sign a former key special teams contributor in Will Allen, Wilson was not waived injured, but rather released outright. Normally, that would suggest that an injury is not that severe, and if Wilson’s special teams contributions were so highly valued, I would question the prudence of releasing a player with a one-to-two-week injury.
After reading of Wilson’s release, I went back and looked at his performance on special teams during the team’s last game against the Minnesota Vikings, and I did not come away impressed with what I saw.
The raw data reads that he did not make any tackles despite playing on virtually all special teams units. What is more, he was also flagged for a penalty to boot. But it is still not that simple.
On several occasions, for example, Wilson struggled to block linebacker Michael Mauti on kick returns, and on at least one return, his failure to block Mauti resulted in the tackle, even though it came all the way across the field.
On the long kick return by Cordarrelle Patterson at the end of the second half, on which Markus Wheaton may have saved a touchdown, it was Wilson verging to his right, into Curtis Brown’s lane, that gave the rookie wide receiver the avenue to hit the hole and get out to the 34-yard line. While it may not have solely been his fault in this instance (Terence Garvin also took a wide lane that helped open the hole), he did his part to contribute to the big return.
Mind you, this is pure speculation on my part as to whether Wilson’s special teams performance had anything to do with his release, and if Pro Football Focus is to be believed, the last game was his worst of the season thus far. He also does some good things, such as wedge-busting, which is why the Steelers re-signed him to the practice squad. And if he is healthy enough to be signed to the practice squad, how injured could he be? Nevertheless, I see nothing that the team is losing by replacing him with Stevenson Sylvester, whose superior understanding of the defense is also an advantage.