The Steelers addressed their inside linebacker position in a big way in the 2019 NFL draft, trading up to the tenth pick in the draft to select Devin Bush out of the University of Michigan. Bush played from Week 1, solidifying the position and improving over the course of the season, leading the Steelers in tackles and contributing 6 turnovers to the defense.
The inside line backer with the second most snaps in 2019 was Mark Barron, the converted safety who was used as a coverage linebacker by the Steelers. With Barron no longer on the team, there has been a good deal of speculation about how the Steelers would replace the role Barron played in the defense. Would they turn to second year line backer Ulysees Gilbert III who showed promise in his first preseason? Would the Steelers lean on safety Terrell Edmunds and use him as a coverage linebacker?
Keith Butler seems to have already decided the answer to that question.
Keith Butler said Vince Williams is a go-to guy because he is a great communicator, we think he can cover. He will play inside with Devin Bush.— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) July 31, 2020
It is no secret the Steelers like Vince Williams, he is a fierce competitor, very solid tackler and he has been calling the defense from inside linebacker since injuries thrust him into the starting lineup as a rookie. Williams played the least amount of snaps on defense in 2019 in any of the last three seasons. After two straight season of more than 70% of the defensive snaps, Williams was only on the field for 396 in 2019 which equated to 37%.
Butler gave him an additional vote of confidence in coverage assignments, and made it clear that he will be the main partner for Devin Bush at linebacker.
It is possible the Steelers could use just Bush and Williams at the position, instead of a three linebacker rotation like they had last year as they limited Devin Bush’s snaps. If that is the case Vince Williams will be playing in 3-4 sets as well as nickle. He played in nickle a good bit in 2019, and while he boosted the run defense when out there, he also could be a liability when facing teams with backs and tight ends that were athletic route runners.
With Butler committing to Vince Williams already, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers deal with more difficult coverage assignments as the season progresses.