Williams has been training at the Tom Shaw Performance Camp at Walt Disney World since he was 16 years old, and he worked out with cornerback Ike Taylor and former Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior well before Pittsburgh selected the former Florida State standout in the 2013 NFL draft.
The Steelers turned to rookie sixth-rounder Vince Williams to start once Larry Foote went down with an injury.
“They always used to tell me I would fit good in that system,” Williams said.
That has proved to be the case so far even though Williams was thrust into regular duty sooner than even he had expected.
Williams has emerged as the starter at strongside inside linebacker, a role the Steelers had to scramble to fill after Larry Foote went down in the opener with a season-ending bicep injury.
Foote has stayed close to the team as he works his way back, and he has become a de facto coach, helping young players such as Williams.
Foote said he likes that Williams has improved every week, something he attributed to the latter’s approach to the game.
“He’s getting better,” Foote said. “I like the excitement and enthusiasm he plays with. You need that to be good in this league.”
Williams is fifth on the Steelers with 44 tackles even though he didn’t become a starter until the fourth game of the season and loses snaps when the defense goes to its quarter package.
The Steelers took Williams with the second of their two sixth-round picks last April, and how the 6-foot-1, 250-pounder handled getting drafted after 205 other players provides some insight into his confidence -- and why he hasn’t been overwhelmed by starting as a rookie.
“I didn’t even really watch the draft,” Williams said. “I just knew once I got into a locker room that I was going to stick. I definitely think (the game) has slowed down but I get a lot of reps now too so improvement is to be expected. ”
It is too early to tell whether the Steelers unearthed a long-term starter late in the draft, and Foote has no plans to cede his starting job without a challenge next season.
For now, Williams said he is happy to have Foote as a mentor and someone he can constantly consult whether it is in the linebackers’ meeting room or on the sidelines during a game.
“Hopefully I can come back next year and he can be my backup,” Foote said, “but I’m just excited for what he’s doing because you root for young guys and you want them to play well.”