Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers have been criticized lately for being to “old” on the defensive side of the ball, their coaching staff will be forced to turn to some of their talented youngsters tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals.
As I have referenced in previous posts, first round pick Jarvis Jones is expected to start at right outside linebacker, Shamarko Thomas is set to be the team’s nickelback, and Vince Williams will be asked to spell Kion Wilson at the “buck” inside linebacker spot.
In a defensive system that favors “experience” over “youth,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will be unable to keep those three on the bench this evening.
Even though it is only his second professional regular season game, Jones is simply too good right now to ride the pine. His team needs someone who can create some pocket-collapse and turnovers out on the field, and the former Georgia Bulldog has illustrated that he can do both of those things since he joined the team. Despite the fact that the coaching staff felt comfortable enough with Jason Worilds starting last week, they cannot sacrifice reps for the rookie with what he can bring to the table for this defense.
Thomas, a safety by trade, is needed to chip in at nickelback due to the injury sustained by Cortez Allen last weekend. Thomas is arguably this team’s fourth-best cover guy, and his experience playing in the slot in Syracuse will hopefully help him against Cincinnati’s tight ends and secondary receivers.
Williams, who was expected by many to be a special teams contributor this fall, will also be pressed into duty because of an injury suffered by a starter last week. Although Larry Foote’s bicep opened the door for Kion Wilson to start, Williams is expected to chip in and help as the team’s top backup at the position. How much Williams will actually play has yet to be determined. But if Lawrence Timmons or Wilson sustains an injury, then it will be the former Florida State Seminole who will be pressed into duty.
While I am nervous to see how these rookies perform, I am nevertheless intrigued to see how this infusion of youth affects Pittsburgh’s defense. These three players are integral pieces of this team’s current rebuilding plan, so it will be interesting to see how they can perform and help the team in the present.
Cincinnati’s offense is loaded with play-making weapons, so the jobs of Jones, Thomas, and Williams will be anything but easy tonight. Difficult or not though, this rookie trio must find ways to pick up the slack left by the injured veterans to give their team a chance at winning tonight’s crucial road game.
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