With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Vince Williams, ILB
The Steelers wanted to keep Lawrence Timmons, the 10-year veteran and stalwart at the buck linebacker position, before he signed a two-year contract, almost all guaranteed, with the Dolphins this offseason.
With money burning a hole in their pocket that was perhaps previously earmarked for a cornerback—they would eventually get one months and months later in Joe Haden—the front office kicked the tires on injured Patriots Pro Bowler Dont’e Hightower, whom they coveted the year he came out, particularly defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who was the linebackers coach at the time.
Nobody is really thinking about Timmons or Hightower anymore, though. And the Steelers maintained all along that they were comfortable moving ahead with Vince Williams taking over the buck linebacker position.
A 2013 sixth-round pick, Williams has almost always played well when he has had to, aside from being a mainstay on special teams. But he previously always replaced Ryan Shazier, and not Timmons, since the latter had remained healthy.
This is the first period of time in which Williams and Shazier have really worked together, and the self-named Shake and Bake duo is slowly building that chemistry together that is so important for an inside linebacker duo in the heart of a 3-4 defense.
He has not been a tackling machine—they already have Shazier at the mack for that—Williams has been the more assignment-sound of the two, and he hasn’t really been ‘noticed’ all too frequently in coverage, as many feared he would.
Of course, he has been running this defense for five years now, it probably should be pointed out. The guy knows what he’s doing, and he has started games and played well. He actually has four sacks this year as well, showing his effectiveness as a blitzer, crucial at his position in a zone blitz scheme.