If we have learned anything of importance so far during the new league year, it is that the Pittsburgh Steelers will have to get themselves a new starter at the buck linebacker position after 10-year veteran and former first-round draft pick Lawrence Timmons agreed to a two-year contract that was nearly fully guaranteed with the Dolphins.
While the team did aggressively pursue free agent Dont’a Hightower, it doesn’t appear that their bid was ever going to be enough to get the two-time Super Bowl champion to leave New England. The Jets offered more than either team, according to reports, but the 2012 first-round draft pick chose to stick with the familiar.
As of right now, the most obvious solution to the inside linebacker void is Vince Williams, the fifth-year player who passed up a chance at free agency this year after agreeing to a two-year contract extension last offseason, which gave the Steelers come insurance if they could not keep Timmons.
So what exactly are the Steelers getting with Williams in the lineup next to Ryan Shazier? In four starts last season filling in for Shazier, he recorded 35 of his 47 tackles on the season, adding two sacks as well—his first and second full sacks of his career.
The former sixth-round draft pick is one of the hardest-working players on the roster, taking his pointers from James Harrison in the weight room, for starters. In spite of the fact that he has never been a full-time starter, he is seemingly widely respected by his teammates, as though it were always understood that he was a starter in waiting.
You might recall seeing on Twitter soon after Timmons signed his deal with the Dolphins, team leading Cameron Heyward Tweeted about Williams being on deck and jokingly advising opposing offenses to “keep your head on a swivel”.
Williams is if nothing else a heavy hitter, a feature that comes in handy for his special teams contributions. But those responsibilities may have to be curtailed at least somewhat if he has to take on the task of being a full-time starter.
Nobody questions his abilities as an in the box player, in run support. He is able to shed blockers well and make plays near the line of scrimmage. He is able to get out on the perimeter chasing down ball carriers as well, delivering the big hit upon arrival.
The area of his game that is questioned is obviously his ability to hold up in coverage. In over 1000 career defensive snaps, Williams has only recorded one pass defensed—which he happened to deflect, allowing Timmons to make an athletic interception.
It would be foolish to deny this as an area of concern. You might recall that during the preseason when the Steelers were transitioning to more Cover 2, he struggled on multiple occasions to get to the right depth. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be a quality starter. The Steelers may have a plan to limit his exposure as well.