Bush and Williams ready for ILB workload?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Jonathan Clark


With the NFL Draft officially over and free agency pretty much slowing down, rosters look to be pretty much set for the start of next season. Moves can be made at any time throughout this off-season, but the one position the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t addressed yet is ILB. With the losses of Mark Barron (FA) and Tyler Matakevich (Bills), Pittsburgh’s depth at linebacker dwindled down to Devin Bush and Vince Williams, 2nd year guy’s Ulysees Gilbert III, Christian Kuntz and Robert Spillane, and rookies John Houston Jr. and Leo Lewis.  Just looking at this group of guys, it’s safe to say that Bush and Williams are going to share a heavy workload this season, and it seems like Bush is just fine with that. 

Last season, snaps at ILB were split between Bush, Barron and Williams accordingly. Bush was 1st with 889 snaps, Barron was second with 750, and Williams was in 3rd with 396 snaps played. With Mark Barron being released this off-season, that means that there are about 800 defensive snaps the Steelers need to allocate for this season and Bush expects Williams’ workload to increase heavily this upcoming year. He has been very vocal this past week in his confidence in the both of those guys being that ILB tandem. He was quoted in an interview with Steelers.com as saying, I have no doubt me and Vince can go out there and control the defense reassuring Steeler Nation of his confidence level going into this year. 

Bush was brought in to be that every down line-backer for this team. He has blazing speed sideline to sideline and has amazing instincts for someone at the linebacker position. He is a rare breed. He showed all throughout all of last season that his play making ability on the defensive side of the ball is second to none, and there is nothing but confidence surrounding this guy in Pittsburgh. The question really is, where do those 800 extra snaps go to. Williams has always been a solid interior force in the running game for Pittsburgh pretty much his whole career, ever since 2016 when he was brought in to take over for Lawrence Timmons. The Steelers have just been a better team defending the rush and a guy like that has value on any football team. In 2018, Williams finished the year as the 4th best defensive ILB in the league, posting a grade of an 81.2 respectively. The running game has never been a concern on his end, and while he has struggled to stay healthy at times, the questions with him have always been in the passing game. Can he keep up with the new NFL game speed wise. That is where I think these guys compliment each other so well. Many could say that 55‘s strength is in the pass game. The fact that you can line him up on a tight end, running back or a slot receiver and actually have faith that your guy is not going to get beat is a major plus to your defense. He showcased his cover skills with his two memorable interceptions last year, one at home against the Baltimore Ravens, and one that went for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers while still totaling a combined 109 tackles on the year. 

You also have the dark horse of the three, Ulysees Gilbert III. A sixth round pick of the Steelers in 2019, he spent much of last season injured and we were only really limited to seeing him in training camp and preseason action. His sophomore and junior seasons of college ball at Akron, he put up over 120 tackles both seasons, combined for 19 tackles for loss, and eight sacks in a MAC conference that the Steelers love so much. In preseason, he showed flashes of speed and quickness, and it looks like he is the type of linebacker whose game transitions well into today’s NFL. I think he is a guy who the Steelers are quietly in love with. Not drafting an ILB in this year’s draft showed that they are comfortable with who they have. This must mean the Gilbert is due for a bigger role this year, no? If Gilbert can stay healthy and still show those flashes he did last season, with how this off-season went, I can see him splitting snaps with the ILB crew or at least getting a shot.

ILB is a big question mark on a very strong defense this year. It is a position that will have a lot of eyes focused in on it and the experience of this group will be put to the test. I will say that I can have confidence knowing we can pair Bush and Gilbert together in pass defense packages and have Bush and Williams dominate the inside run game, and I think they compliment each other well. Bush and Vince always just look like they have great chemistry, and they were two of the three ILB’s of the top 5 defense last year, so we can’t forget that. If Gilbert can fill the role that Mark Barron was originally signed to do, which is play that hybrid LB position that is so coveted in today’s NFL, I think the ILB position is in good hands for years to come. 


What do you think the Steelers should do at ILB this season? Comment below!


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