Steelers: Williams Continues To Strive For Greatness Amidst Challenges


The Pittsburgh Steelers have asked much of 2013 sixth round draft pick Vince Williams in his short time as a professional athlete in the NFL.

He was issued the jersey number of Steelers’ great Casey Hampton mere months after the team released the twelve year veteran, who started in 164 of the 173 games he played in during his time in Pittsburgh. Steelers’ Nation is fond of the numbers that their former players wear, especially the 98 that stretched over the gut of Hampton for over a decade, and the decision to give it to a rookie was more than likely not received well by some.

As if the pressure of donning #98 was not enough, he was tasked with taking on a larger role after starting interior linebacker James Farrior was lost for the season with a biceps injury. After a carousel of starters that included Kion Wilson and Terence Garvin, the coaching staff finally committed to Williams for the final ten games of the season. He finished his rookie campaign with a total of 40 tackles.

Just when it seemed like the Steelers had found the heir to the spot across from Lawrence Timmons left vacant by Farrior, they threw a wrench in Williams’ plans to become a starter by selecting Ryan Shazier in the first round of the 2014 draft. Not only that, but they guaranteed the starting spot to Shazier without any sort of competition. Despite this, Williams would make the final roster.

Injuries would yet again keep Williams on the field in his sophomore season. With Shazier missing a chunk of his rookie campaign due to a MCL sprain suffered early in the year, Williams would share starting time with Sean Spence. Spence made his NFL regular season debut in 2014 after spending the last two years rehabbing a knee injury that was thought by many to be career ending.

Interior linebacker coach Jerry Olsavsky and the rest of the Steelers’ defensive coaching staff have to be foaming at the mouth with all the talent they have at the position. It certainly has to be refreshing to have that much depth where, at the same time, the outside linebacker position is full of question marks heading into the new season.

Where the Steelers were once asking Vince Williams to step up and potentially become a starter on their defense, he now sits behind Timmons in the strong side inside linebacker position. Disappointing as it may be, this could prove to be a positive thing when it comes to Williams’ future with the team.

Williams will continue to see time on the field in sub packages and when rotating out both sides of the inside linebacker position. He is too skilled and valuable to the defense to not get him on the field in some form or fashion. It also does not hurt to have a talented player such as Lawrence Timmons to learn and grow under.

As we seen last season, injuries can occur at any time and depth in the ranks is essential if the Steelers wish to return to the post season in 2015. Players like Williams, as well as many others, are waiting for their chance to return to the starting lineup or get their first chance at making the most of an opportunity that could change their career for the better.

Should the unthinkable happen and Shazier or Timmons become injured, the experience Williams has with the defense will become invaluable. He will have to beat out Spence, his biggest competitor, to see more playing time. The defense is high on him after his fight to return to the field ended in success, but Williams’ more tall and wide frame (6’1″, 247 ibs to Spence’s 5’11”, 231 ibs) is more favorable when it comes to bringing down the opposition.

Not only should Williams be preparing to start in the event of an injury, he should take advantage of every opportunity he has the on the field in preparation that he could one day be a future starter. It may not be what many in Steelers’ Nation want to think about it, but there is a chance that the Steelers do not immediately grant Lawrence Timmons a contract.

Nov 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams (98) takes the field during player introductions against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 23-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Timmons will become an unrestricted free agent before the start of the 2017 season, and much can transpire before then. Key members of the roster such as Cameron Heyward, Kelvin Beachum, and David DeCastro are all up for contract renewals. If he continues to perform at the level that earned him his first Pro Bowl selection, it will be a difficult decision to make when the time comes to extending his contract, or forming a new one altogether.

This is where Vince Williams must be prepared if it comes to him potentially being the man who steps up to take hold of the reigns should Timmons be lost to free agency. Preparation for when/if that time comes starts in 2015.  Williams will continue to grow as an athlete while building upon the experience he has gained so far in his career. He can prove that he could have been the true starter the Steelers needed all along.

It will be a tough road for Williams, and it is impossible to predict how his time in the Steel City will pan out. If the beginning of his career is any indication of how it will end, he has much to be excited about as he continues to strive for greatness.

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