Vince Williams sat at his locker at the end of last week, unusually quiet. As you looked around though, it made sense as there wasn't anybody there for him to talk to.
On one side was Antonio Brown's locker, empty as he was rehabbing away from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in an effort to be ready for Sunday's AFC Divisional Round Game. On the other side, the locker that once belonged to James Harrison sat empty. And just around the corner, Ryan Shazier's locker was unoccupied as he continues to recover from a spinal injury suffered on Dec. 4 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It was terrible," said Williams. "I didn't have Ryan. AB was out. Deebo left us. I was over here by myself. It was terrible. It was no fun."
What has been fun this year, is watching Williams. During OTAs in the spring, Williams said he was 'humbled' that the Steelers believed in him enough to not draft another inside linebacker, or sign one in free agency, instead let him be the one to step up and replace Lawrence Timmons, who had left via free agency. It showed him the organization had confidence in him, the first time he felt that way. And that belief has benefited him every day.
"When you don't get to play a lot, every time you are out there you are critical of yourself," said Williams. "You don't really give yourself a chance to let loose and play freely. You are worried is this the last time I am going to get to play linebacker? Am I going to be back on special teams? Will I get another opportunity?
"Now, just having a decent amount of reps out there to just play free and loose and know this is your job, it gives you more confidence. I now have more confidence and I think you can tell in my play too."
Don't think for a minute that Williams doesn't have confidence in himself. That is certainly not the case. After all, he did change his Twitter handle from Vince to 'Bince' to get in on the Killer B's action.
The Steelers prepare for the Divisional matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It's not so much the confidence in your ability, you know you are good enough to play," said Williams. "It's just are you going to be able to go out there and execute, and if you make a mistake how is that going to affect you. Now when I make a mistake I am not looking over my shoulder worrying is this going to be my last opportunity to play. I know I am going to have other opportunities to make up for those plays. But when you are in a fragile situation that mistake is way more critical than it is now."
Williams is making the Steelers confidence in him pay off. He is third on the team in tackles with 88, and his eight sacks are second, behind only Cameron Heyward who has 12.
"I am just thankful for the opportunity," said Williams. "I don't look at statistics and things like that. I just know that I set some personal goals and I was able to achieve a lot of those. And I was able to play good football for my team and that was the most important part."
He plays the game with passion, due in part to the chip that sits firmly on his shoulder, and will likely never move. He came into the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick, a player who was never guaranteed a roster spot, let alone a starting spot, and did nothing but earn everything along the way with hard work, determination and talent despite many doubting him, especially on social media.
"People didn't want me to be in this position," said Williams. "Everybody doubted me. Nobody thought I could contribute. They wanted to bring somebody else in. They said I couldn't fill Lawrence's shoes. I wasn't a three down linebacker. I wouldn't be able to be productive enough. I was too slow.
"I love proving people wrong. I feel like proving the haters wrong is actually more appeasing to me than showing people that believed in me that I could do it. It shouldn't be that way. You should want to appease the people that love and care about you. It's so much more gratifying to prove and shut people up. I will always keep that in the forefront of my mind. I will never let the fake love get to me. I know who is here for me."
And for Williams, when it comes to real love, there are two people on his mind these days, his close friend and teammate Ryan Shazier, and late Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney.
"I just feel like those guys are such major contributors to what we are doing here," said Williams, "You have to keep them on your mind when you are going through this."
Shazier is on Williams mind every time he walks into the practice facility, every time he is on the field and all of the time. He wears Shazier's No. 50 in practice, and has No. 50 on the back of his helmet.
"I just want to remind everybody of Ryan," said Williams. "I want to keep him fresh in their mind. What everybody is out here going through. What we are thinking of. What the game of football means to us individually and collectively.
"I miss him more as a friend and a locker room teammate than I do No. 50 on the field."
On Tuesday night, Williams took to social media to put his emotions out there, chronicling how he first felt when the team drafted Shazier, to how it turned out to be "the best thing that ever happened to me."
Williams shared how their friendship grew, to the point where they are now brothers. A few of the tweets are below, but make sure to go to read his Twitter feed, and it gives you even more insight to the type of person he is.
This is just a sampling of Williams' tweets.