On the outside, it might not seem so obvious. But if you ask anybody in the locker room, they know perfectly well how important Vince Williams is to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team, and to the defense specifically. An eighth-year veteran, he has cycled in and out of larger and smaller roles, but he has always been a centering influence on the team.
And even when his primary role was on special teams, his aggressiveness was a driver of emotion for his teammates. ‘Energy bringer’ is the term that head coach Mike Tomlin likes to use, and Vince Williams, a former sixth-round pick who is back in the starting lineup this season, is certainly one of those.
Steven Nelson knows, even in only his second season with the team. The veteran cornerback told reporters earlier today that “Vince brings that tenacity that the Steelers are known for. He embraces that physicality role, and he’s gonna go out there every play and try to take somebody’s head off, so I think we feed off of that”.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who watches him play long enough. After all, he is a regular presence behind the line of scrimmage. Even though most teams now have a game up on him, his eight tackles for loss in three weeks still leads the league. A number of players are tied for second, including T.J. Watt—with five.
Originally selected in the sixth round out of Florida State in 2013, Williams made the team as a rookie, but was soon after thrust into a larger role than anticipated when Larry Foote suffered a season-ending injury in the opener.
He spent most of the rest of the season as the team’s primary ‘buck’ linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons, but to counter his inexperience and limitations, the Steelers turned to the dime defense as their primary package that season to limit his snaps.
A year later, they drafted Ryan Shazier, and he was a plug-and-play starter. He had to wait his turn until Timmons left in free agency in 2017 before he would be back in the starting lineup, and he posted eight sacks and an interception that season, with a career-high 89 tackles.
Things changed last year when they signed Mark Barron in free agency and then drafted Devin Bush, who was a day-one starter. He was reduced into a rotational role, but he embraced the competition and was consistently a bringer of positive energy.
With Barron gone, it’s not himself and the young one. Bush is the every-down player and the one with the green dot, but Williams is the veteran—and the one making the plays as well, especially in the backfield.