Kevin Gorman: Vince Williams welcomes Steelers’ new inside linebackers
If you expected Vince Williams to sound insecure or insulted about the Pittsburgh Steelers signing a free-agent inside linebacker and selecting another inside linebacker with their top draft pick, you don’t know Vince Williams.
Williams never is at a loss for words, but he directed his vitriol toward what he termed a “tumultuous” offseason after selfishness led the Steelers to a second-place finish in the AFC North and missing the playoffs last season.
“We want to win, man,” Williams said Wednesday after a voluntary organized team activity on the South Side. “There ain’t no egos. No need be coy about it. We didn’t make the playoffs last year. We feel like we’re a championship-caliber unit. So everybody is embarrassed and (ticked) off.”
That Williams is welcoming free agent Mark Barron and first-round pick Devin Bush with open arms instead of treating them as threats to supplant him in the starting lineup is telling.
More than anything, Williams wants to win. I don’t say this voluntarily. The 6-foot-1, 250-pound inside linebacker insists I write it, stopping to shed his smile for a menacing glare.
“I want to win. Make sure you write this: I want to win,” Williams said. “I’m a winner. Losing sucks. If you make 200 tackles and you lose, you’re a loser. Vince Williams is a winner.”
Williams was only getting started. He said he signed a three-year, $18.6-million contract extension late last August “to play for a franchise with a history and legacy of winning.”
Williams called a Super Bowl the only thing missing from his resume. That’s telling, too, as he’s never been voted to a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. Williams claims he isn’t much focused on personal accolades or statistics.
“If I wanted to have better stats, I could’ve (gone) to a sorrier team and I could’ve been the best linebacker on one of those units,” Williams said. “The more great linebackers you have on one team, the better your team is. Anybody who don’t think like that, you’re a loser.”
As we’ve already established Williams is a winner, albeit one without a Super Bowl ring, there’s no need for him to be coy about his intentions. He wants to win, so he’s embracing the idea a converted safety who played in the Super Bowl and a top-10 pick from Michigan will help upgrade the position. So he’s treating Barron and Bush as complements, not competition.
That’s the smart play, even if the Steelers also are making it clear their pass coverage over the middle wasn’t at what Mike Tomlin might call varsity level. Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett paid the price for that, as both were released.
Williams isn’t just a winner but a survivor. He has gone from sixth-round pick to starter for the Steelers as much for his smarts as his ability to play smash-mouth football. Williams started out of necessity as a rookie, only to return to a backup role and star on special teams for the next three seasons.
When Lawrence Timmons left for Miami in free agency in 2017, Williams had a breakout season with 88 tackles and eight sacks while playing next to Ryan Shazier. Those numbers slipped to 76 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season, when Williams missed two starts with hamstring and toe injuries.
Safe to say, Williams is not easily impressed. But Bush has made a strong first impression on Williams, as much for his smarts as his speed. Williams is smart enough to be quick to pick up on Bush’s value to the Steelers without viewing it as anything but an improvement to the team.
That’s why he hasn’t hesitated to help Bush, even if he raved about Bush’s “great football instincts” in one breath and joked “all rookies are kind of like Bambi” in the next. (Did I mention that Williams isn’t just a winner but a funny guy?)
“Absolutely,” Williams said. “I want everybody to win. We win Super Bowls as a team, you know what I mean? It’s about everybody. Every man who puts his hand in the pile has to contribute. It doesn’t do anyone any good to be selfish.”
That’s especially true at inside linebacker, a position that now has the promise to be the difference between the Steelers being winners and losers this season.
We already know where Vince Williams stands on that subject.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .