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Steelers' defense has received boost from young linebackers

| Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Vince Williams pursues Packers running back Eddie Lacy on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

When the Steelers' young linebackers auditioned in the final preseason game against Carolina, hardly anyone figured they would make significant contributions deep into the regular season.

Yet the Steelers have a playoff pulse in part because sixth-round pick Vince Williams and third-year veteran Chris Carter picked up a wounded linebacker corps during a 38-31 victory at Green Bay on Sunday.

“The standard is the standard, so when our numbers were called, we expected to perform,” said Williams, who made his 11th start at inside linebacker since Larry Foote suffered a season-ending biceps injury in the opener. “That goes for the whole team. We've bought into that, and we believe that.

“I want to make a play every time my number's called. I knew with the spread passing game of Green Bay that my opportunities would be limited. So every time I got on the field, I tried to make a splash play.”

Carter was pressed into duty when rookie first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones couldn't suit up after becoming ill Saturday night. He was clamping down his shoulder pads when the coaching staff told him he would be penciled into the starting lineup.

Already, the Steelers' depth had been tested when right outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was shelved for the season with a calf injury. Then things appeared desperate when left outside linebacker Jason Worilds staggered off Lambeau Field with a stinger and an abdominal injury.

Worilds said he expects to be at full strength when the Steelers (7-8) host Cleveland (4-11) in the regular-season finale Sunday at Heinz Field.

“We say every week that if the (linebackers) play well, we're going to be successful,” Worilds said. “It's a testament to those guys and their preparation in the way they stepped in and played under pressure.

“I've spent my entire career being the next man up. Chris and Stevenson (Sylvester) came in and played winning football for us.”

Terence Garvin, elevated from the practice squad earlier this season, played well before leaving with a knee injury. Sylvester, signed six weeks after being released, had four tackles against the Packers with the Steelers' postseason fate at stake.

“We played together. It's that simple,” Carter said. “I think Stevenson Sylvester and Vince Williams did a great job on defense and special teams.

“I felt excited and confident about how we were able to play. They (coaches) told me I was starting, and I said ‘All right. I'm ready.' It's the nature of the game. It's the challenges we face.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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