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Steelers young LBs growing up fast

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Vince Williams tackles the Bengals' Jermaine Gresham on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 10:45 p.m.

Kion Wilson got confused at times.

Vince Williams found himself flustered at one point.

And Dick LeBeau expected nothing less.

With the Steelers lacking any experienced inside linebacker to replace the lost-for-the-year Larry Foote, LeBeau decided to do the next best thing last week against the Bengals: use two to fill the job of one.

And that's what will happen against Sunday when the Steelers host the Bears at Heinz Field.

Wilson will start. Williams will play a lot. And both will be required to wear the green-dotted helmet and relay the defensive calls to a bunch of veterans who barely know their names.

“It is really tough to come in and do something like that, and that's why you don't have a lot of guys who come in as rookies and play that position,” safety Ryan Clark said. “You are young, you are just coming in and you have to do the physical things … and now you have to know all the checks and know the defenses. They weren't perfect.”

Both were taking a defensive snap for the first time in their careers, Wilson played 21 snaps and, because Wilson played more than two dozen special teams plays, Williams was on the field for nearly half of the Steelers' 84 defensive plays.

“I think they played as well as they could,” Clark said.

Williams, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Florida State, finished with seven tackles, and Wilson, a first-year player out of South Florida, had four.

But a few key communication mistakes overshadowed their otherwise good all-around play.

“We had a couple of breakdowns that were very costly,” LeBeau said.

The most costly one came in the third quarter on Giovani Bernard's go-ahead touchdown that was a result of a missed call by Wilson.

Wilson was supposed to change the strength of the formation that would've made right outside linebacker Jason Worilds drop into coverage instead of rushing the quarterback.

“We had some breakdowns,” Clark said. “I did my best to get them information to give to the front and make sure he checks to the coverages. Sometimes they heard me and sometimes they didn't, but I was trying to be as vocal as possible.”

Lawrence Timmons was supposed to be the one calling the plays before LeBeau switched that up late in the week and allowed the two young guys to do it.

“It can be difficult at times because we don't really have a simple defense,” Williams said. “Our defense does a great job of communicating, so it is just not me by myself. Now, the majority of that responsibility does fall on the buck linebacker, and I want to pride myself on being able to accomplish that job to free up the other guys and focus on their responsibilities.”

LeBeau isn't counting on either Wilson or Williams being able to separate themselves from each other for one of them to win the job outright any time soon.

But if one of them does, he would be more than happy to hand that starting job over to him on a full-time basis.

“If one of them clearly separates themselves from the other, they will be getting the majority of the snaps,” LeBeau said. “They are young players and are getting some on-the-job training. They are both pretty equal players right now. If one of them shows they want the full-time job, I am sure that's what Coach Tomlin will do.”

Until then, it's going to be buck linebacker by committee for the Steelers.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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