Exclusive with Matt Williamson of WilliamsonFootball.com

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First, can you tell us how the new website (WilliamsonFootball.com) is doing and what inspired you to launch it?

I was working for the Browns Ben’s rookie season – the year we drafted Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. That was my first year in the league. Before that I spent the prior four years as a recruiter and scout for Pitt and Akron.

Well after the first year we all got let go in Cleveland. Dennis Green’s son Jeremy was the founder of Scouts Inc. and he brought me in. They did the insider NFL content for ESPN. I stayed there for ten years and got hooked on the media side. With young kids at home I could work from home – I didn’t have to worry about spending a hundred hours in an office. But ESPN let a lot of people go and I was one of those let go in the first wave. I bounced around – I wrote for over fifteen sites over the past three years. The I decided to launch my own site. It’s only been up for three months or so but it’s going well. I get to write what I want.

What makes the site different from other sites?

I pump a ton of content into it -articles every day. I have the eyes of a former scout so it’s unique – and I have a lot of fantasy content as well – including dynasty league stuff.

So let’s dig into your Steelers coverage. We keep hearing  about the need for leadership on team  – how big of an issue is this now and has the team done enough to focus on this?

The team is somewhat in a transitional stage. Two drafts ago if you remember they took Watt, and when I sat down with Mr. Rooney he unprovoked told us he was looking for leaders. High character guys and captains. If you look at the last two drafts you can see they drafted a lot of guys with those characteristics. Watt, Conner…. They are emphasizing it. In the past you had guys like Joe Green…but those teams were littered with leaders.

Now in the locker room they have guys like Haden who was brought in with those characteristics and has been a big help this offseason to the younger guys. Heyward is another obvious leader and the defense’s best player. But they need other young guys to step up.

On the offense they are pretty well set but they don’t have that Bettis or Faneca type guy. That father figure type guy.

How do they handle this cluster at safety and cornerback?  Who gets playing time and what system is really going to work with these guys?

I don’t know for sure yet. They spent money on Burnett and picked Edmunds then Allen. That’s a lot of safeties and I can’t believe we won’t see a lot of safeties on the field after that investment and see fewer reps for guys like Williams, Bostic, and Matekevich.

You look at guys like Kelvin Smith in Jacksonville who weighs only 215 pounds. Guys like Dion Jones who don’t look any different really than Edmunds and Burnett and Allen. Stopping the pass is key now and I think you’ll see more nickel coverage on first and ten and the dime when teams go three-wide. Allen, Edmunds, and Burnett are just glorified linebackers in those schemes.

But that calls for more sub packages usage…. doesn’t the base have to work first?

Well keep in mind sub packages are two-thirds of their snaps now.  Sub package is really a misnomer – they are used more than the base in the 3-4. Really the base is the sub package. I think its going to be more like a 5-1, with three down linemen, two edge guys, one linebacker – probably Williams – with three safeties and two cornerbacks. Then in the dime Hargraves comes out and Hilton comes in.

Who gets the playing time in those packages?

There are  a lot of bodies and they are going to have to figure that out-  who gets the reps. In reality of course, they all won’t. Sutton is the guy with an excellent chance as well to find a home there – he’s a younger, better William Gay. I’m most excited about him.

The team plays so much high safety and they really don’t have a true high safety guy. Maybe Davis has those skills but I really think Sutton can be that guy.

Does that mean Davis would sit?

I think it could happen but it has to play itself out in preseason. I do think Sutton can be that guy, and certainly the first guy off the bench at cornerback and safety if not.

Tell me a bit about the pass rush and the switch of Watt and Dupree. Will that work – and what’s behind the move? Is it really about over0running quarterbacks?

Well, TJ played on the left side at Wisconsin – they moved him to right in Pittsburgh because they had a gap – a need there. But I think he’s more comfortable on the left side and they are going to cater to him over Dupree as he’s frankly the better prospect.

I do think it matters less now the way offenses are run, but right tackles tend to be the heavier footed guys and left tackles lighter, more finesse guys. I think Dupree will have a better chance with his bull rush against the lighter left tackles and Watt can use his speed against the heavier-footed right tackles. Teams also tend to line up their tight ends to the right and TJ is a better coverage guy as well.

Tell me more about Dupree. Can he be more – or do you think this is just who he is at this point?

On Dupree, I think that’s who he is. When I sat down with him he felt he could have been a ten sack guy last year if he was able to just finish off some of the sack opportunities. But every pass rusher can say that really. He needs more moves. His bull rush is good but not as good as it should be. And he doesn’t have counter moves. And frankly, he’s disappointing versus the run. He’s explosive running in a straight line but doesn’t hold the point of attack well consistently.

And the return game – any changes/help here from the draft?

Starting with punt returns, I think it’s Antonio Brown when they need him most. But I don’t think people realize that Sutton was one of the best punt returners in the country last year at Tennessee. So I think it’ll be Sutton unless they bring Eli Rogers back then one of those two, and a break glass as needed scenario for using Brown.

On kickoff returns, I’m not sure who that guy will be – what guy has a chance that can make the team. Quadree Henderson could be that guy but he has to make the team first and that will be tough. Samuels could take on that role and they used Conner there as well. Heyward-Bey has done it too. But I’m not sure on this yet – really depends on who makes the team.

In terms of OTAs and mini camp – I know it’s all practice in shorts, but anyone stand out?

I think Tucker has a good chance to make the team. Rudolph threw the ball much better than I thought he did – it really helps to see these guys in person. Washington was the talk of the team and camp. And I think Brian Allen showed improvement. All of the sudden they have a bunch of defensive backs.

What about the inside linebackers?

Bostic – I know they brought him in as a stopgap. When I watched him on film he seemed stiff – good straight line speed but not very good in coverage, but I came away impressed by him. He was better than I expected. As for Matekevich, I have mixed feelings about him. People forget that he got hurt in the same game Shazier did. That got overlooked in the context of that Shazier injury. I think he can be good but I don’t know if he’s a good enough athlete.

Any other guys we should know about?

It was interesting – I sat down and spoke with Jaylen Samuels and he was open with me about the fact he never had to pass protect. He said that every time they threw the ball he was running routes. So he has to get that down first. He can be a core special teamer and maybe handle kickoff returns. And he can even do Bell-like things as a receiver to spell Bell for a series or two. I think he can contribute in a lot of ways, he just likely won’t be a standout guy in any.

And don’t forget about Keion Adams. They liked him last season – he he’s moving well. He’s explosive an plays well in space. He’s someone you need to keep an eye on. I think he can show something in the preseason an maybe become that third guy in the outside linebacker rotation.

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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