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The Steelers should proceed with caution with the return of Vince Williams

The Steelers linebacker will be eligible to return from the Reserve/COVID-19 List this weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been dealing with a number of injuries across their team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. One particular unit affected the most is the linebackers. Including both outside and inside linebackers, Devin Bush and Bud Dupree have been lost for the season. Bush‘s primary back up who came onto the scene and has filled in admirably, Robert Spillane, is also on the Reserve/Injured List but is hopeful he can make a return for the postseason.

Already down two inside linebackers, the loss of Vince Williams for Week 14 due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List was all the more devastating. While players such as Avery Williamson, Marcus Allen, and Ulysees Gilbert all stepped up to fill the void and inside linebacker against the Buffalo Bills, knowing Williams should be available soon for the Steelers would really help boost the position.

Williams was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on December 10. Assuming Williams has passed the required negative tests, he would be eligible to return to the Steelers lineup before Monday’s match up against the Cincinnati Bengals. But simply because the 10 days have passed does not mean Williams is ready to come off the list. Case in point, Kevin Dotson spent 16 days on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and Vance McDonald spent 15 days on the list. On the flip side, James Conner came off the list when the 10 days were up. Technically, he came off on Day 11, but the Steelers had an off day when the actual time was up.

So what about Vince Williams? Should Steelers fans expect him to be available for Monday? Should the Steelers themselves be planning for Williams to be available Monday night? As most of us know by now, COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally. Some have the virus and are asymptomatic while others are not. Based on Williams’ own tweets, it appears he has been experiencing at least some symptoms as he tweeted out prior to the Steelers game on Sunday night:

So even if Williams is eligible to come off the Covid list, assuming he will be ready to play may be premature. Yes, a lot can change in a week since Williams mentioned how COVID-19 was affecting him. But even if Williams is feeling better and eligible to return, do the Steelers want to take the chance knowing they are already locked into the postseason?

There are no definites in the NFL, and the last thing that Steelers can afford to do is take the Cincinnati Bengals lightly. With a chance to lock up the AFC North, the Steelers need to take care of business on Monday night. But as important as it is, it is also important to make sure their players are in the best situation going into the postseason.

It may be wise for the Steelers to not look for a return of Vince Williams in Week 15 but rather see if he can return to practice in preparation for the matchup the following week against the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, Williams played against the Bengals five weeks ago after coming off the COVID-19 list the day before the game, but he was on the list due to being a close contact and not because of a positive test.

If Williams has recovered and is ready to go and the Steelers feel the need to have him active on Monday night, there is also a chance he would see limited action as he works his way back. Actually having the virus and symptoms would make it difficult to play someone without a first allowing them to test out how they respond coming back to physical activity, but it is not completely out of the question. In the case of Vince Williams, it might be in both his and the Steelers best interest to make sure he is fully recovered and ready for the physical nature of the NFL before he straps on a helmet in game action. Although Williams is a tough, physical player who is itching to get back with his team, the fact there are three games left before the playoffs gives both parties the luxury of getting a fully recovered Vice Williams back in the Steelers’ lineup.