Vince Williams gives Pittsburgh Steelers new starter at inside linebacker


As the 2013 NFL draft came to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally addressed their second-biggest team need. With their compensatory pick in the sixth round, the Steelers landed inside linebacker Vince Williams from Florida State.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and company showed interest in Williams leading up to the draft. Perhaps they had decided Williams was the value selection at inside linebacker.

They had opportunities to grab an ILB early, passing up top-ranked Arthur Brown from Kansas and Florida’s Jon Bostic to select their prized running back Le’Veon Bell. Linebacker coach Keith Mitchell candidly admitted after round two that they chose the running back over a linebacker.

Williams was the leader for the highly-ranked Florida State defense. The Seminoles led the nation in yards against per rushing attempt (3.69) and were second in total yards allowed per game. So coupled with their first-rounder Jarvis Jones, the Steelers added the team leaders of the top two college defenses in the nation.

May 3, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers sixth round draft pick linebacker Vince Williams (44) participates in drills during Steelers rookie mincamp and orientation at the UPMC Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Not a bad plan.

Like Jones, Williams game tape was better than his tryout tape. Williams lacks straight line speed. At the combine he recorded an average of 4.79 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He plays a bit tall and there are concerns regarding coverage from sideline to sideline.

What he showed in games was the ability to diagnose a play and forcibly hit the ball carrier. He was the signal caller at Florida State much like the “Buck” position in the Steelers’ 3-4 formation. He reportedly took command directing the defense in rookie camp this past weekend.

Williams recorded 300 tackles in his career at Florida State. At 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, Williams is a younger Larry Foote yet can tackle like the great Levon Kirkland.

If Williams can get up to NFL game speed, he could challenge Foote for the starting ILB “Buck” position. It’s no secret that Foote is the back-up plan. The Steelers had planned for 2012 third-round pick Sean Spence to already be their starting ILB. Unfortunately, Spence continues to recover from a gruesome turf injury and will have to rest his knee another full season. Spence was the coverage inside linebacker the Steelers wanted for their defense.

We are not exactly shooting for the stars to hope Williams can be as good as Foote in coverage. What Williams will need to show is that he can outtackle him. At age 33, Foote relies on his Pro Bowl teammate Lawrence Timmons to finish up his tackles too often. Williams will need to develop a camaraderie with Timmons in order to make his way on the field.

But first thing’s first — Williams must make the roster. His competition at inside linebacker includes offseason additions Brian Rolle (Philadelphia Eagles) and Kion Wilson (San Diego Chargers) and a late return of special teamer Stevenson Sylvester.

Williams also played four years of special teams in college. He knows becoming a valuable part on special teams is a good way to earn a helmet on Sunday. And he may just have the tenacity to make new special teams coach Danny Smith notice him first.