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Steelers LB Williams more confident after being 'terrified' as rookie at camp

| Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, 9:27 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers linebacker Vince Williams lines up for a play during practice Saturday, Aug. 1, 2014 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

Vince Williams once again is fighting through Steelers camp, but the fight is different.

As an unheralded sixth-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2013, Williams was no lock to make the roster. The inside linebacker spent late nights buried in his playbook last summer, hoping his stay at St. Vincent wouldn't come to an abrupt end.

“I didn't know anything all the way up until the last cuts. I was sitting there nervous till I found out I made the team,” Williams said. “There was never a level of complacency ever. I didn't let it settle in until later in the season.”

That's partly because the start to Williams' rookie season didn't offer any downtime. Larry Foote went on injured reserve with a torn biceps following the season opener and replacement Kion Wilson struggled out of the gate. By Week 4, Williams had notched his first NFL start.

“I wasn't really thinking about trying to start or hone in on my abilities,” Williams said. “So when Larry Foote went down, I wasn't really ready to step into that role.”

In 15 games — 11 of them starts — last season, Williams was frequently overmatched, so the Steelers sought help at the inside linebacker position. They signed Arthur Moats — who now lines up at outside linebacker — in March and drafted Ryan Shazier two months later to again fill the hole, and Williams was out of a starting job.

Williams mostly has been featured alongside Sean Spence in the second-team defense, but he has let his shoulder pads do most of his talking through the first two weeks of camp.

He has not been shy about laying big hits and engaged in a brawl with running back Le'Veon Bell during a backs-on-backers drill Friday night.

“Vince is one of those guys. He has that distinguishing characteristic,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It's a good thing to build the rest of his game around. When you snap the ball, he's ready to play.”

Williams said the new-found intensity is self-driven.

“The front office is the front office, and they're going to take care of business the way they want to take care of business,” Williams said. “You can't really get in a rat race or focus on what everybody else is doing or, you know, I wouldn't end up being here. All I can do is continue to be the best Vince Williams I can be.”

That best likely will involve serving as a role player in the Steelers linebacker corps as well as earning his keep as a playmaker on special teams. But he said he will do so knowing he has the ability to compete as a professional.

“Last year (at camp) I would make a bad play, and I was terrified,” Williams said. “This year I'm more confident in what I'm doing. I'm not scared to where I'm like, ‘That's going to be the one that gets me cut.' ”

Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at aerickson@tribweb.com.

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