Steelers rookie Vince Williams is growing into his role on defense.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rookie linebacker Vince Williams did not know Lawrence Timmons before being drafted by the Steelers in the spring. Timmons last played for Florida State in 2006, two years before Williams arrived on campus to play for the Seminoles.
"But I was aware of his legend," Williams said Thursday. "Lawrence really played only one year at Florida State. A lot of people don't even know that. He played a little special teams his sophomore year, started as a junior and went to the NFL as a first-round draft pick. That's odd. That's amazing."
Williams took a more conventional route to the NFL. He was at Florida State for five years and started his final two before the Steelers selected him with their second pick in the sixth round in April.
It took Timmons until his third season to become a full-time starter for the Steelers. Due to the injury to Larry Foote, the other Seminole in the linebacker corps might soon become a full-time starter as a 24-year-old rookie.
Kion Wilson started the past two games in place of Foote, but it was Williams who saw the majority of the snaps in both games. Williams played 33 snaps against the Bears compared to 11 for Wilson.
"I thought he did real good," Timmons said. "In the second half, he did a real good job fitting up with the run. He's going in there, calling the defense, too. For a rookie to come in and do that, that speaks volumes."
Williams was credited with four tackles against the Bears, but one missed tackle stands out. Williams said he was bothered that the Bears converted a fourth-and-1 for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
"I had a couple of plays I could have done better, namely that fourth-down on the goal line," Williams said. "I'm my worst critic. The standard is the standard around here. I don't really feel like I want to be doing good for a rookie. I feel like I want to do good for a professional football player, so I hold myself to a higher standard. I feel like it was an OK game, but I really want to do better."
When Foote was injured, Timmons was expected to wear the communication helmet and relay the defensive calls to players on the field. But the coaches changed their mind and entrusted Williams with that responsibility.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Williams and Wilson will continue to split time, but coach Mike Tomlin is keeping a close eye on the situation.
Tomlin said Tuesday he was impressed with Williams thus far.
"Vince is doing a nice job, not only in play but in communication and communicating in a timely and appropriate way," Tomlin said. "I think he's winning the confidence of the veteran defenders from that standpoint. Obviously, there is a lot of communication that comes with that job and he's done a nice job at that. He appears to be a natural, but we'll continue to play he and Kion in an effort to get the best out of both until we get some clarity in terms of who is the guy that's going to rise up and seize that spot."
Williams prepared in training camp to be a versatile member of the defense. He switched back and forth throughout the preseason at right and left inside linebacker.
"I wanted to learn as much as possible," he said. "Nothing is promised or guaranteed. Anyone can go down at any moment. I prepared myself since day one that I may be the starter. I didn't know if I'd be playing the [right] or the [left]. I wanted to know them both in case anything happened.
"I was really comfortable making the calls. The hard part was getting used to how fast things move in the NFL, the motions, the shifts, those adjustments. Understanding the defense, I felt like that was something I could go home and do. I went home and got in the playbook and went over my assignments. I'd go in the mirror and sound out my calls so when I communicated them they would come out smooth."
Williams and Timmons will have their hands full this week against Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is fifth in the NFL with 281 yards rushing through three games.
Peterson, the reigning NFL MVP after rushing for 2,097 yards last season, played against the Steelers on one other occasion. It was a 2009 game at Heinz Field, and the Steelers held Peterson to 69 yards on 18 carries.
Williams knows it won't be easy.
"It's going to be a very demanding task, but I feel like we're going to be up to it," Williams said. "I'm putting in a lot of extra reps, a lot of film study. His second effort is ridiculous. The guy is amazing. It'll be a good challenge, and I'll be up for it."