The Pittsburgh Steelers defense will certainly have a different look to it in 2017 and it will include two new pieces in veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams and rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Gone this year, however, is long-time veteran inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who signed a two-year, free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins during the offseason. During a Monday interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was asked how he feels about Williams now replacing Timmons in the starting lineup.
“When I first got here, I know he started and things like that, but me and Vince, we actually work hard together and the coaches see that a lot and they’ve seen when he comes in he can perform at a high level,” Shazier said of Williams. “So, the crazy thing is, a lot of this stuff I’ve learned from playing the linebacker position either came from my coach, or watching and studying film with Vince. So, me and him have a really good rapport and chemistry when it comes down to being out there on the field together and we’re already thinking what the other one is thinking. I think that’s actually going to help out a little bit.
“I’m going to miss Lawrence, he was a good friend of mine. He definitely led me when I was playing and taught me how to be a linebacker, but with Vince, me and him, we actually study a lot of film together and we’re actually really good friends off the field and I think it’s definitely going to take us to the next level and help our defense get to where we want to get.”
While Williams is not a stranger to starting as he’s already done so 17 times due to injuries at the inside linebacker position since entering the NFL as sixth-round draft in 2013, he’s never done so with Shazier beside him. In fact, six of the games that williams started over the course of the last three seasons were because Shazier was sidelined with an injury.
Even though Shazier is comfortable with Williams replacing Timmons in the starting lineup moving forward doesn’t mean he didn’t learn a lot from his former teammate and especially when it comes to how durable he was, which is something Shazier has struggled with since entering the league in 2014 as he’s missed 14 regular season games so far due to injuries. Timmons, on the other hand, has only missed two games so far during his 10 years in the league with the last one coming way back in 2009.
“You definitely have to use Lawrence as a role model just to get out on the field,” Shazier said of his former teammate and inside counterpart. “He has over 12,000 snaps and there’s not a lot of guys in the NFL that have that many snaps and he never really missed practice. He never missed any games, he went out there with his hardhat and his lunch pail and got to work every game, gave you everything he had and I respect him in terms of that and he definitely taught me how to play the game of football at a professional level. And I just respect him for everything he’s done and I’m definitely going to use some of the knowledge that I learned from him to continue to play my game.”
As for Shazier’s thoughts on Watt, who is likely to platoon with veteran outside linebacker James Harrison on the right side of the Steelers defense in 2017, he said Monday he’s been impressed by the Wisconsin product so far during the team’s offseason practices.
“I think T.J.’s going to come in and help us tremendously,” Shazier said of the team’s first-round selection this year. “I definitely see his work ethic already on the practice field. We do get-offs every day and I don’t know if Coach Tomlin is serious or he’s just messing around with us, but T.J. wins almost all of them because every time we’re always complaining, all you hear is Coach T say, ‘T.J., T.J., T.J.’ Because you know, we’re all racing to try to win.
“But, he has a great get-off, you definitely see his motor and every time when it’s time to talk about football, or the plays, he knows what he should know and when it’s time to make a check, or do something a little bit different on the defense, he’s right there and right aware with the older guys. So, me seeing him being able to do those type of things definitely brings confidence in what he can bring to our defense.”