What Vince Williams’ retirement means for young Steelers linebackers

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams (98). Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams (98). Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /

Vince Williams recently elected to hang up his cleats for good. Here’s what an open spot on the roster means for young Steelers linebackers. 

The Steelers lost yet another veteran leader just before the start of their 2021 training camp. After saying goodbye to four long-time offensive linemen, Pittsburgh bids Vince Williams a fond farewell. He deserves it.

Since being just a 6th-round draft choice all the way back in 2013, Williams doubled the length of former draftmate Jarvis Jones’ career and played in roughly 3 times as many games. Despite lacking elite athletic traits, Williams’ work ethic and tenacity kept him around longer than anyone could have anticipated. However, it was his ability to dominate coming downhill that I will miss the most.

For the first time in years, the Steelers will need a new starting ‘Buck’ linebacker to pair with Devin Bush in his ‘Mack’ role. Robert Spillane is the clear and obvious choice to fill that position. In fact, With Williams now retired, Spillane stands to see a big uptick in snaps in 2021.

However, Williams’ retirement doesn’t only provide more opportunity for Spillane, but it also opens the door for the young linebackers clawing for playing time behind him.

Which young linebacker could rise to the occasion for Steelers?

This is an especially intriguing opportunity for young Steelers off-ball linebackers (and one they may not have seen coming). With Vince Williams out of the picture, a door is open for at least one young linebacker to step into a much larger role with the team in 2021. But who will that be?

The Steelers spent a 4th-round pick on Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson this year, but the rookie may not prove to be ready to contribute on anything more than special teams right away.

Miles Killebrew was a veteran who plays somewhat of a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Unfortunately, not only is he a poor fit, but he’s started just 4 games in 6 years, and he projects to be used primarily be used as a special teams player for the Steelers.

Assuming that Johnson isn’t quite ready, this means that Ulysees Gilbert III and Marcus Allen could be the biggest beneficiaries of Vince Williams’ retirement.

While neither player is ideal for the ‘Buck’ role (one that typically sees the linebacker coming downhill and taking on blockers), they could find their way into the rotation due to their athletic traits and ability to work in space. Of the two, Allen has been the healthier player – dressing for 14 games last year – and he did see 206 snaps on defense last season.

Gilbert, on the other hand, could prove to be an even better player in coverage, but it all starts with his ability to stay on the field. The young linebacker has dressed for just 11 games in his first two seasons and landed on IR both years.

Steelers 53-man roster prediction before 2021 training camp. light. Trending

It will be interesting to see which young Steelers linebackers emerge into bigger roles in 2021. I will keep a watchful eye on them at training camp this year to see if there is a player who is able to separate himself from the pack.