While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have several young starters on the defensive side of the ball—possibly including one rookie this year in T.J. Watt—there is only one lineup change that they have had to make in the starting lineup by necessity.
That mandatory change was thrust upon them when 10-year veteran inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons chose to sign a two-year contract to man the middle of the field for the Miami Dolphins, on whose field he vomited last season. When asked earlier this offseason how he is doing so far in a new environment, he cited his ability to hold his lunch in his gut as a sound barometer.
Still, while there were those who were ready to see the Steelers move on from Timmons, it is hard to deny that the resulting change is a significant one. He has been starting for eight seasons now and was at the heart of the defense, even if he did not consistently call the plays.
The first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era was a solid and steady player for a decade in Pittsburgh, and not one easily replaced, but the Steelers feel comfortable enough in moving ahead with Vince Williams, who started alongside the veteran during Williams’ rookie season in 2013, due to injury.
And now that he will be starting alongside Ryan Shazier, the man that they essentially drafted the following year to replace him, Williams can’t wait to see him get back on the field.
“No question, we’ve got to have Ryan back, like yesterday”, he told reporters yesterday, according to Dale Lolley. “I just want him out here because he needs the time” on the practice field. Shazier has missed the majority of training camp while dealing with a hamstring injury. Injuries of all varieties have been a staple of the former first-round pick’s career to date.
The majority of Williams’ playing time since his rookie season has coincidentally been earned as a result of Shazier’s injuries. He has started six games in the past three years and logged significant time in others due to time that Shazier has missed.
Williams lined up alongside Timmons in those games, but now he must replace him. And his goal is to make it seem as though Timmons never left.
“I just don’t want there to be any dropoff in our defensive production from the inside linebacker spot”, Lolley quoted him as saying. “I don’t want anybody to notice Lawrence is even missing. We go with business as usual”.
Williams also noted that he has not “gotten to work with Ryan that much”, either this offseason or over the years, since Williams’ first-team reps have coincided with Shazier’s injuries. Still, he said that he does not think “it will be that significant”.