Ryan Shazier has been a dominate force. No one can argue the impact he has had in many games over the last three seasons. Ryan Shazier has also missed 14 games due to injury. Without him in the lineup the Steelers relied on Vince Williams among others to fill the void beside Lawrence Timmons. The Steelers will no longer have that luxury after letting Timmons leave town via free agency to the Dolphins this past March. Williams will assume a full time position next to Shazier, and after those two the Steelers don’t have much depth.
LJ Fort, Tyler Matakevich, and special teamer Steven Johnson are the only other middle linebackers on the roster with NFL experience. Fort is heading into his fifth season in the league, but has only ever started one game, and that was back in his rookie season in Cleveland. Matakevich was drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 draft and played very sparingly during his rookie campaign. Matakevich is known for his high motor but his size and athleticism limit his NFL potential. Johnson was signed from the Chiefs prior to the 2016 season for his special teams skills more-so then his ability to play linebacker and missed most of last season after being placed on injured reserve.
GM Kevin Colbert spoke about how much they wished to keep Timmons prior to free agency, but they were not willing to pay the price Miami was for the aging vet. He reiterated his confidence in Williams after not addressing the position in the draft.
“Again, if you go back to the previous free agency period, we knew there was a chance Lawrence would leave and that’s why we signed Vince Williams to an extension, and we’re very confident in Vince,”Colbert said,
Colbert claims to be confident in Williams replacing Timmons, but the fact of the matter still remains that they spent an entire day trying to woo Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower away from New England. Hightower ultimately decided to return to the Patriots and the Steelers didn’t have any contact with any other free agent linebackers.
In four seasons Williams has started 17 games with 11 of those coming at the beginning of his rookie year. He started in place of Shazier in four games last season while Shazier dealt with a knee sprain. It will be critical to the Steelers defense that Shazier does not get injured. Should the Steelers need to sign a free agent to the mix they aren’t going to be able to find much.
Colbert and Tomlin are rolling the dice, and if it doesn’t come up in there favor they could be sacrificing one of the final seasons of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career.