Vince Williams was never supposed to be thrust into such a big role as a rookie, as we all know. The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that as well, which is why they routinely resorted to their dime defense to take him off the field.
That same line of thinking also brought them to the selection of Ryan Shazier in the first round of the past draft.
The truth is that, in all likelihood, Williams saw more playing time in his first season than he’ll likely see in any other—perhaps in all others in totality.
With Shazier already taking the first-team reps from the very beginning, and Lawrence Timmons still in his prime, Williams isn’t likely to see the field by design any time soon.
That isn’t even mentioning the fact that Sean Spence appears to be back up to speed after two seasons spent rehabilitating his knee. Spence, his second-team partner at inside linebacker, figures to be a greater asset on defense moving forward.
So where does that leave Williams as he enters his second season?
Perhaps he finds himself exactly in the position that he should have been from the beginning, and where he figures ultimately to settle in his career.
He is a Keyaron Fox-type player, a backup that you can rely upon if necessary to be in the right place at the right time, but ultimately not much more.
Perhaps he has a bit of a higher ceiling than Fox has, although that could greatly depend upon how he improves his ability to defend against the pass going forward.
Mind you, this is by no means an admonishment of Williams as a player, nor necessarily his performance during his rookie season, which was on an upward trajectory.
Nobody would deny that the Steelers were served as well as or better than could be expected from the rookie sixth-round pick once he took over the buck linebacker spot in the fourth game of the season and shared play-calling responsibilities.
And Williams certainly isn’t forfeiting anything on his end. As we’ve previously detailed, he’s gone over every snap of his rookie season striving to get better, and he’s not about to concede that he is fated to be a career backup.
“I could feel it getting better gradually”, he said about his rookie year. “It gave me a big boost coming into this year. Now I’ve been out there. I’ve had the feel against real NFL competition, so I feel like a lot of things are slowing down now”.
The reality is, however, that he’s not necessarily competing for a starting job at the moment. He’s competing for a roster spot.
Starting games last season has not earned him much seniority, and he will be battling a dense group of inside linebackers, such as Jordan Zumwalt and Terence Garvin, to keep his place on the team this season, even if he’s quite likely to win.