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.