The Steelers added some linebacker with the acquisition of Jets linebacker Avery Williamson. After the injury to Devin Bush, Robert Spillane has played quite well. Spillane had a pick-six and numerous other high-level plays against the Browns, Titans, and Ravens. However, with Ulysees Gilbert III nursing a back injury, it was always possible that the Steelers would make a depth move to shore up the hole left by Bush. So, how does Williamson help fill the hole in the middle of the unit?
Williamson’s Solid Tape
Avery Williamson has a high volume number of tackles, and it is all because of his shrewd instincts and great run defense capabilities. In just about every facet of run defense, Williamson is above the line and more than capable of making any play, even sideline-to-sideline.
This was a nice play by Williamson from start to finish. First, pre-snap, Williamson gets the defense set perfectly in alignment. Ensuring everyone is set correctly is a huge part of being a veteran and captain of defense like Willamson was in New York. Knowing his fit is the A-gap and seeing the inside zone footwork on the front side. Knowing he is free to pinch the line, Williamson works downhill into the A-gap to force Kenyan Drake outside. By staying square to the line, Williamson scrapes over the guard and makes the tackle on Drake. This is a veteran play from Williamson.
This is another solid play to avoid the trash and run free over in backside pursuit. Williamson keeps his run fit integrity but sees the split zone. Nevile Hewitt gets blocked as the guard climbs to the second level. Seeing that, Williamson immediately begins to work towards the backside pursuit to help fill the void, and he does this nicely. Even as the center tries to work up to him from the combo block, Williamson stays square to the line and shrugs off attempted contact to make the backside tackle.
Williamson puts on a clinic on how to take on a blocker trying to climb to a linebacker and win. Seeing the outside zone footwork yet again, Williamson understands this will be a combo reach block from the tackle given the heavy personnel. However, Williamson does an outstanding job of mirroring the running back’s movements and swatting down the tackle’s hands as he tries to contact him. That keeps Williamson clean and allows him to get outside in pursuit of the running back. As such, he makes a great tackle for only a short gain.
The question about Williamson’s coverage is a tough one to answer. Even when at his height in Tennessee, Williamson was never a great coverage linebacker. Much of that still holds to this day as he comes to the Steelers. This is a player better suited for short zones in the hook and curl area, even though he can have his struggles to a degree here. Similar to Robert Spillane, he will have some great reps, but also some ugly ones. Working in a zone is where he’s more comfortable, but he realizes the situation he is in on this play. It is a Cover 3 coverage, so naturally, the receiver here will have a huge cushion, and if it is a curl route, Williamson has to be there. However, he stays too far towards the interior instead of immediately bowing out to get Davante Parker, and as such, it is an easy pitch and catch.
This is a nice play in man coverage. While a below-average man coverage linebacker, Williamson’s instincts do allow him to make some nice plays here. In that way, Williamson is very similar to Vince Williams in coverage. He sees the in-breaking route, cuts off any throwing window for Brett Rypien here. However, importantly, Williamson avoids traffic and gets the boundary to make the tackle on Melvin Gordon. Avoiding that natural traffic is something that Williamson does extremely well.
The overall scope of Williamson’s play is that he is a solid player. At the very least, especially for the price, the Steelers have a fantastic deal in place here. Williamson is a starting-caliber linebacker but may only be needed for depth, which would be great. However, expect him to rotate into sub-packages to start. Williamson is a three-down linebacker who can work well in that area. While his coverage ability is lacking to a degree, Williamson is a phenomenal run stopper and with the strong Steelers, defensive line should be able to work even better than he did in New York. For the value, they got him at, Kevin Colbert deserves to be lauded.