As of now, the Bengals are set to open the 2015 regular season with just five true linebackers on their 53-man roster.
However, with offenses being geared toward the pass now more than ever, the linebacker is not as critical of a position as it once was. Gone are the days of having primarily run-stuffing backers and few whose specialty was defending the pass.
Now, we're seeing more hybrid safeties who essentially work as nickel linebackers. While run defense is sacrificed, it does keep another guy on the field capable of defending versatile running backs like Le'Veon Bell, Shane Vereen and Matt Forte. It also gives the defense another capable pass defender to go against move tight ends like Tyler Eifert, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, and Rob Gronkowski.
Seeing those guys matched up with guys like A.J. Hawk gives nightmares to Bengals fans, but we should see less of that based on how the final roster was constructed. We'll more of guys like Shawn Williams being tasked with defending thoe guys, just as has been the case this preseason.
Williams, a former third-round strong safety out of Georgia, spent a good portion of the preseason working at linebacker in nickel and dime defenses. Here are a few examples:
This would be essentially the same role in which the Bengals used Taylor Mays his last few years in Cincinnati. Since being drafted in 2013, Williams has played a grand total of 39 defensive snaps in 32 games. He's been relegated to special teams, but the hope is he'll finally find a role in the defense that leads to him being on the field more in his third year in the league. He finished this preseason with 118 defensive snaps and a 0.7 Pro Football Focus Grade playing linebacker and both safety spots.
Based on how the Bengals used him this preseason to go with how the linebacker position looks, Williams appears to be in for a significant role in the defense in 2015.