Spence, Williams divvy up Shazier's job

The argument could be made that No. 1 pick Ryan Shazier has become such a presence on defense that it takes not one but two players to replace him.

The Steelers used Sean Spence and Vince Williams at inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons after Shazier went down with a sprained ankle in last Sunday's 43-23 victory over Baltimore.

The plan is to use Spence and Williams in place of Shazier again this Sunday against the New York Jets; Spence in the regular alignment and Williams in five-defensive backs "nickel" sets.

"Whatever the team needs, I'm down for," Spence said.

Added Williams, "I think it'll be fine. Both of us have some game experience, me getting a lot of it last year and him getting a lot of it this year. I think we'll be able to go out there and be more than adequate."

Williams started 11 games as a rookie in 2013 after inside linebacker Larry Foote was lost early in the season due to a torn biceps.

Spence started four consecutive games this season – from Sept. 28 against Tampa Bay through Oct. 20 against Houston – when Shazier was unavailable due to a knee injury. Spence had played in just three games previously, having finally made it onto the field this season after recovering from a knee injury sustained in August 2012.

The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the New York Jets.

Using Spence and Williams in the manner the Steelers did against the Ravens and manner in which they intend to use them against the Jets is designed to allow both to contribute on defense and continue to play multiple special teams, and to free up Timmons to cover a tight end in obvious passing situations.

Just as an example, rookie tight end Jace Amaro is second among all Jets with 32 receptions and 285 receiving yards.

Things went according to plan against Baltimore, and Spence maintained he's ready to do what he can to help carry out the plan again against the Jets.

"I had to knock off a lot of rust," Spence said. "I didn't think there would be that much rust. But missing two years, I feel like I'm getting better each and every game."

Williams hasn't played as much this season as he did last season but considers himself a better player when called upon.

"I feel 100 percent better," he said. "I feel like any sophomore player coming into his second year of the NFL should feel. I felt like I did fine (last year). By the end of the year I feel like I really panned out, started to get a grasp of the defense and started to make a few more plays."

The Steelers' defense has been making more plays during the current three-game winning streak, and it has been showing signs that the incorporation of new players due to roster turnover, injuries and/or inconsistent play has become less of a concern than it was at the outset of the season.

"We're having a lot of fun, man," Spence said. "We're winning and we're getting turnovers."

Williams concurred.

"We're finally starting to glue and gel together and work over those problems," he said. "You're seeing the fruit of that labor."

Out -- Shazier (ankle), SS Troy Polamalu (knee), S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring), CB Ike Taylor (forearm), S Ross Ventrone (hamstring).
Probable -- LB Jason Worilds (abdomen), DE Cam Heyward (not injury related), DE Brett Keisel (not injury related), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), SS Mike Mitchell (not injury related), C Maurkice Pouncey (not injury related), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring).

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