The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted defensive end Nick Williams in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft because they fell in love with his measurables, and defensive line coach John Mitchell believed, because he was still new to the game, he would be able to mold him into the player he wants him to be for the defensive line.
The idea was, of course, that he would have plenty of time to develop into that player, but the plan went awry pretty quickly. After dealing with injuries early in training camp, Williams was only able to participate in one preseason game until he suffered a season-ending knee injury and was put on injured reserve.
Thus, he spent all of his rookie season rehabbing his knee rather than taking reps with the defense, only being able to learn and grow from the sidelines.
Because of his inexperience in the game, the physical reps were particularly important, but he had to do without. His knee subluxation took a long while to rehab, well into the 2014 offseason, in fact, but he was able to participate in all four preseason games. He only managed to play 36 total snaps, but he did play well.
Even though the Steelers kept four defensive ends on the roster, they chose to keep Williams and another defensive end, Josh Mauro, on the practice squad, seeing the potential in both of them. Here is a look at some of that potential from the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.
The Steelers rotated their ends in the second half. Williams played the last possession of the third quarter and the first possession of the fourth quarter for 13 total snaps. This is his second snap of the game—the first being an offensive penalty.
On first and 15, the Panthers ran Fozzy Whittaker off right tackle, in Williams’ direction. The defensive end was working against the right guard, pushing him into the backfield and cutting off Whittaker’s zone options, which allowed the linebacker to shoot in and cut him down for no gain on the play.
With the Panthers facing second and 11 deep in their own territory on the following possession, Whittaker was able to find a hole on the right side of the defense in Mauro’s area for a big gain, and it was up to Williams to turn upfield and pursue, tackling the running back along with Shamarko Thomas after gaining 14 yards.
On the following play, he beat the right guard to get into the backfield and made the solo tackle on the running back for a loss of one on the play. It looks like the guard’s situation may have been exacerbated by the center as well, but Williams won his individual battle regardless.
On second and 11, realizing that he wouldn’t be able to get to the back himself to make the tackle, Williams tried to squeeze the gap that Whittaker hit, and with he and Howard Jones covering the left edge, the back had no choice but to take that route. Waiting for him was Terence Garvin, who popped him after a four-yard gain.