When the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed Lawrence Timmons to head to the Miami Dolphins after ten distinguished years of service in the Steel City, they did so knowing that they had someone in waiting whose time had arrived. After coming to Pittsburgh as a 6th round draft pick out of Florida State, the Steelers quickly saw the intensity that made Vince Williams a starter in 26 out of his last 27 games as a Seminole. In 2017, Vince Williams will finally get to show everyone exactly why he was Florida State’s emotional leader, and how lucky the Steelers were that Don’ta Hightower returned to the Patriots. This may seem like a rather bold prediction for someone who has only started 17 games in four years, but what he has done in those starts has earned him the trust of Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin.
Despite an impressive showing during his final two years at Florida State, Vince Williams failed to receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, even after receiving one for the Senior Bowl. The Steelers saw something in the feisty linebacker though, and selected him in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Based off of his scouting profile, Vince Williams was a perfect candidate to be a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker.
Williams is a decisive, downhill inside linebacker who makes quick reads and takes a beeline to the action. He plays with urgency and power and can cover a lot of ground to make a play in pursuit. Williams has a mean streak and physical edge, always looking to punish ball-carriers. He has an extra gear when he gets a read on the play, and Williams is generally around the ball. He is also a stout linebacker who can fight through blocks or jolt a blocker in the hole when he has to clash with them.
Over-aggressiveness gets Williams in a lot of trouble. When he guesses wrong, he will take himself completely out of a play. Williams’ eyes wander, leading him to abandon his area of responsibility, often with bad results. He will bite on play fakes and can be lured into no man’s land. Williams seems to prefer eluding blockers to taking them on. He sometimes gets so focused on his destination that he leaves himself open to being blown up by blockers he doesn’t see. He might not have the foot speed and range to be a three-down linebacker.
Williams has the outstanding closing burst of a good “A” gap blitzing inside linebacker, and he will burst through a lane to the quarterback when he spots one. He isn’t used that frequently as a blitzer, but he does generate pressure and will blow up a quarterback when he gets the opportunity. Sometimes, he affects the play simply by flashing into the quarterback’s field of vision while he is sprinting at them.
The Steelers selection of Vince Williams paid off almost immediately as he made 11 starts during his first season. For a rookie, that is an impressive accomplishment in a Dick LeBeau defense. While Williams didn’t set the world on fire, he certainly didn’t look out of place either, finishing with a respectable 40 tackles, including 4 for losses. In his career he has 126 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but it was in consecutive starts during this past season, against the Chiefs and Jets, where Vince Williams showed what he could be capable of doing on a regular basis. In those two games, Williams had 21 tackles and 2 sacks, while punishing every ball carrier or tight end he got his hands on.
Perhaps what makes Vince Williams the perfect replacement for Timmons is the intensity and the nastieness that he brings to the field. Much like Jack Lambert and Greg Lloyd before him, Williams isn’t about to back down from a challenge or let anyone try to intimidate, or take cheap shots at his teammates. Case in point, when Vontaze Burfict took out LeVeon Bell in 2015, Williams took exception to Burfict’s actions following the play. Deeming it a cheap shot, along with quite a few of his teammates, Williams went after Burfict on Twitter with this beauty.
While this response by Williams may not get looked upon with favor in today’s sensitive and politically correct society, this is the attitude that has been missing from the Steelers defense, and one that Steelernation has been longing for. While Don’ta Hightower’s sole purpose in Pittsburgh was money, Williams’ sole purpose is to inflict pain. The Steelers chose pain over money, intensity over insincerity, and will be much better off for it. This is the opportunity that Vince Williams has been waiting for, and by the end of next season, don’t be surprised to see a growing contingency of fans sporting those new number 98 jerseys.