2017 Offseason Questions: Does Vince Williams Have It Covered?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: How will Vince Williams perform in coverage, and how will the Steelers employ him in that regard?

I don’t know that there is a more significant question for the Steelers’ defense entering the 2017 season than how presumed starter Vince Williams will perform in coverage. Williams is, of course, expected to replace Lawrence Timmons, who departed in free agency after being a starter in Pittsburgh for the past eight years.

Timmons was at one time among the best inside linebackers in coverage in the league, though he has had his obvious struggles in recent years. The Steelers’ transition to more Cover-2 responsibilities has left him exposed to some vulnerable scenarios as well that have magnified the issue.

We know Williams will be a capable player in the box, stuffing the run and all that. This is something that he has been doing since his rookie training camp. But we really do need to see more in terms of how he will perform in coverage, and the answer to that question could end up shaping the sort of packages the team uses in obvious passing situations.

I can’t help but recall a time or two during the preseason in 2015 when the Steelers were incorporating more Cover-2 and Williams was on the field with the defense. He struggled to drop to his appropriate depth and the defense was beaten over the top as a result.

Of course it’s unfair to hold a couple of plays from a preseason game over his head, but it is more than reasonable to have concerns about his ability to hold up in coverage against some of the athletic specimens that teams are employing in the slot or out of the backfield these days.

If it becomes enough of an issue, I strong suspect that the Steelers will turn to a lot of dime personnel, which is the same thing that they did during his rookie season when he was forced to start, and they did so largely on passing downs.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Dave

    Williams is a thumper and coverage has never been his strength. The drafting of Watt gives the team some interesting new options in sub packages so I don’t think Williams will be used in obvious passing downs anyhow.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Maybe he can cover better now as he seems to run faster. I can see that on ST. So there’s a chance Vincenzo can cover well. But I wouldn’t be counting on that. I expect him to be substituted on obvious passing downs.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Normally when the Steelers lose a starter they are replaced early in the draft which we didn’t do and now we have questions. For what Williams can do I have no problem with but if the guy starting before him cannot cover and he was considered better then what can we say about VW? I can possibly see something being done to solve this in the preseason.

  • steelburg

    I think physically VW can do just about everything Timmons did in coverage over the last few years. But where I think he falls short is his awareness in coverage. VW IMO has played enough snaps to where the difference between him and Timmons won’t be a huge one as far as playing the run and even adding some sacks just like Timmons did. But the biggest difference people will notice is his awareness in coverage which I think will improve over the course of the season with playing time and good film study. Originally I didn’t think the team viewed him as a starter based of his contract which was similar to what Moats got. But after they didnt draft someone I am changing my stance, and if you think about it Moats was given the opportunity to win a OLB job but failed to do so. So I think they are giving VW a similar opportunity and how he performs this season will determine if he is locked in as a back up forever or if he can rise to starter level.

  • Jim Foles

    Timmons was drafted as an OLB and played behind Harrison… So Watt do you think?

  • VaDave

    SB, that’s a really well thought out post. I think the key point here is no, he’s not going to be the 2010 version of Timmons ( who btw was playing with Troy P at the time), but IMO, will be a better player than what Timmons brought to the table last year. On bit of concern I had from last year, I believe that VW did get some defensive snaps early in the season as an in-game substitution , and was having some issues with his run fits . On passing downs ( and who knows which is going to be a passing down pre-snap), until we get more pressure on the QB, or better safety play, ILBs pass coverage is going to continue be an issue, especially if we are giving the QB 3-4 seconds and a clean pocket to step into.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Has me worried too. I’d like to believe that the team had the best lineup on the field at all times and his role was extremely limited.

  • Dave

    Just thought by the end of the season we might see a 4-2-5 set on passing downs that would provide coverage and blitz options. Maybe something like Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave, Harrison or Dupree up front. Shazier and Watt as LB’s. Mitchell, Davis, Burns, Cockrell, and a 5th CB or safety. Watt do you guys think? Lol
    Was thinking that we might actually be able to cover a talented tight end like Gronk using this formation while putting pressure on the QB too. If Brian Allen emerges as a reliable tackler and decent in coverage, he’d be a nice choice for 5th DB in this scheme.

  • steelburg

    I agree we definitely need better coverage play from both the safeties and ILB. A little more pressure on the QB wouldn’t hurt either.

  • Jim Foles

    Tomlin said something about him liking Watt as a Rover on the line.. This would fit that idea….

  • John Noh

    I’d love to think so but I really think we’re going to miss Law Dawg more than we’d like. That being said, LT wasn’t worth (for the Steelers) the money that the Phins threw at him.

  • Big White

    Love Vince, but Dirty Red will be the starter by week 7.

  • JB Burgess

    Is Colbert aware that the defense still has a soft middle? The answer to both is NO!!!

  • 2winz

    actually he played behind larry foote, our former ilb. i dont think they ever had any plans to play him at olb. I know they had him play at olb at one point, but only because injuries had forced their hand.

  • LucasY59

    they exposed LT last yr and will most likely do the same with VW this yr, the team did not add a ILB that is capable of replacing Vince in coverage, nor did they add a Safety that could sub in the dime package

  • Rob

    Based on what exactly?

  • Rob

    I have the same concerns, but VW played lights out for the games that Shazier was out last season. If he can improve on that, we can be looking at a plus tandem at ILB despite his deficiencies.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Good post…my slant here. There has to be a plan B on 3rd down this season.

    LY, many of us felt Tomlin and Butler would not expose Timmons in the passing game much based on his performance in coverage during the ’15 season where we clearly started to see a decline. Maybe it was injury, maybe it was declining skills, maybe a little of both.

    I expected a sub pkg, taking LT off the field, but with all the early CB problems they felt Davis was their best option as a slot CB. Golden was not the sub pkg option and we soon found out he wasn’t the best SS option either as Davis took over that role and Timmons was a 3 down player most of the season.

    Now we fast forward to VW being the new ILB…from a coverage standpoint I didn’t see plan B being addressed from the draft so I’m very curious to see how Tomlin/Butler go about improving the 3rd DEF.

  • Jamie Wilson

    The question i have when it comes to the ILB is that i do think they can cover up some of Williams limitations in coverage with a healthy Shazier or by bringing in either Golden or Dangerfeild in passing situations. But what happens if Shazier was to get hurt again this year? Last year they were able to slide Timmons over to the Mack position to cover for a Shazier injury but this year i dont feel we have another linebacker on the roster really capable of playing that position, at even a serviceable level.