Vince Williams entered the starting lineup on a full-time basis in 2017 after long-time starter Lawrence Timmons left in free agency to join the Miami Dolphins. That didn’t work out particularly well for the latter, but Williams carved out a role with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Things changed last year when they signed Mark Barron in free agency and then had rookie first-round pick Devin Bush in the starting lineup. That pushed Williams back into more of a rotational or specialist player, but with Barron gone, the veteran is back in position for a bigger slate of responsibilities, whatever that might be.
Mike Tomlin talked about that role recently with reporters. “In terms of his role in terms of the division of labor, that’s why we come to camp”, he said. “That’s why we go through the things that we go through. Just in terms of having worked with Vince over the course of his career, he’s a formidable run stopper. That is his niche. He’s always been really solid in that regard over the course of his career”.
Even during his starting tenure, the Steelers still found ways to try to get him off the field when the defense was facing obvious passing situations. For example, by the end of the 2018 season, they were using L.J. Fort as the lone dime-package linebacker, with Williams and Jon Bostic on the sideline.
But the Steelers know stuffing the run isn’t Williams’ only skill, and he has long contested the notion that he can’t cover, something that he recently talked about himself. “I think it is just an outside thing that people talk about outside of our organization, but everybody inside the building, they know what I can do”, he said.
I do wonder what he thinks about Tomlin saying that run-stopping is his niche and that he can blitz as well, but mentions nothing about his coverage ability, as though leaving that open to the questions left to be answered under ‘why we come to camp’.
“He’s worked to develop other aspects of his game. His rush is something that has been noteworthy in recent years”, he said of his second-longest-tenured defender. “His ability to win as a blitzer versus backs is an asset to us. His football intelligence and communication skills have always been a solid component of his resume. We got a lot of respect for Vince and we’re excited about his contributions this year, and some of the details in terms of what his role might be and how it plays out will be determined through this process”.
During the 2017 season, Williams logged 734 defensive snaps and turned in 89 tackles with 11 for loss, recording eight sacks, 14 hits, and an interception. He paired with Ryan Shazier as the ‘Shake and Bake’ duo; now they are hoping that he can find a similar rhythm with the young Bush next to him.