While fifth-year Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams may be heading into his first season with the team projected to be a starter on defense, he has already been serving that sort of role in another phase of the game—special teams.
Now, I know well enough having written on the topic over the years that there is a good percentage of people who pay no mind to special teams, arguing that it has a marginal impact on the game—which is largely true, until it suddenly and spectacularly isn’t—so I already have a solid idea of the variety of responses that a piece such as this will meet.
But special teams duties are something that Williams has not only embraced, but taken very seriously, since his rookie season. It was after all a significant component of his ability to make the 53-man roster as a rookie sixth-round draft pick back in 2013.
That year, Williams registered 154 snaps on special teams, nearly one third of the Steelers’ total such snaps for the year, and his workload over the years has only increased since then. In his second season, he accounted for 266 snaps on special teams, not far from 60 percent of the total.
He set a career-high in 2015 when he logged 300 snaps on special teams, more than two-thirds of all special-teams snaps that the Steelers executed on the year. While his workload ticked back a bit last year, he still played half of their snaps in that role at 222.
The Steelers on average play around 450 snaps or so on special teams every season. On the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, it tends to figure in the 1000-1200 range. So 450-500 snaps for a player on special teams is a significant workload when you actually add it all up every game.
According to TeamRankings.com, Williams recorded 11 tackles on special teams in 2016, 13 in 2015, and 15 in 2014. That is an additional 39 tackles that he has contributed over the course of the past three seasons, tackles that often get overlooked.
There is something that you can draw from a player based on the way that he plays special teams as well, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be able to translate his skills on special teams to either the offensive or defensive sides of the ball. Some players have made a career out of being core special-teams players.
Williams is certainly that, but he is also capable of being more, having logged around 1100 snaps on defense over the course of his four-year career. He will get an opportunity to bring his skill set to the defense on an every-down basis this year if he claims his spot.
The former Florida State linebacker has been a tone-setter not just for the special-teams units, but for the team as a whole, often making it his mission to blow somebody up on the first snap of the game, even if it means taking out a blocker on a touchback. That is the tenacity and passion he will take with him on regular duty on defense.