There may never be a point in time over the course of Vince Williams’ career that he is not going to be doubted. Coming into the NFL as a sixth-round pick, profiled as a two-down linebacker in a three-down era, he had an uphill battle to make the roster.
When he tried to actually enter the starting lineup, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a player at his position in the first round and immediately installed that player over him from the very first snap of his first practice with the full team defense.
Even last season, when he ultimately replaced Lawrence Timmons as a starter, he was not an every-down player, frequently coming off the field in obvious passing situations. With Ryan Shazier on the sidelines, however, he has inherited the green dot and has been a constant presence on the field.
He still views himself as the underdog, and he believes that he has been given the right piece of real estate in the locker room surrounded by likeminded players, right next to sixth-round pick Antonio Brown. Prior to his release a year ago, it was also right next to James Harrison, one of the great college free agents of our era.
Both of them played their entire careers—in the case of the former, one that is still going—with the constant presence of a chip on their shoulder, even as they receive widespread accolades for their accomplishments on the field, becoming perennial Pro Bowlers and All-Pros.
For players such as these, it is that attitude that helped them to get where they are in the first place, that helped fuel their drive to outwork everybody around them, so to lose it is to risk losing the ground that they fought so hard to gain.
“I was blessed by my locker position because I am a guy like AB”, he told reporters, “and I was next to a guy like James Harrison. So all we ever talked about was all of us had similar paths finding success”. Williams garnered the nickname Little Deebo. Deebo was one of Harrison’s nicknames on the team.
None of those three players had immediate success. It took Brown two years to enter the starting lineup, even though he went to the Pro Bowl in year two. Harrison was cut several times, and even played in Europe, before finally getting his chance.
One thing that Williams never doubted, however, was himself. “We all knew what I was capable of”, he said. “We just had Ryan Shazier. If it’s who do you want on the field, Ryan of Vince, you’re picking Ryan”, he admitted. But he still believed he was a starter.
Now he is, recording 89 tackles, an interception, and eight sacks a year ago. He has recorded 15 tackles so far this year, on pace for 120 on the season, which would be by far a career high.