Vince Williams couldn't help but notice what happened this offseason, when during free agency the Steelers showed interest in Patriots inside linebacker D'onta Hightower.
"You guys do a great job of putting this stuff everywhere, so obviously you have to notice it," Williams said to a group of reporters during the team's OTAs. "Do you pay attention to it? No, because no matter what, you still have to come in here and put your hand in the pile and contribute no matter what position you play, no matter what role you have. You can't let it shake you or faze you."
What he also noticed, though, was that Hightower wasn't signed. The Steelers also didn't draft an inside linebacker in the first few rounds of the draft, someone they could groom to replace Lawrence Timmons, who signed with the Miami Dolphins this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
And they didn't do either for a good reason, because they believe in Williams.
"I am humbled," said Williams. "We had an opportunity to get some linebackers in free agency. We had an opportunity to draft a first-round linebacker. It shows the organization has a lot of confidence in me. It is the first time I have ever felt that way."
Williams, a sixth-round draft pick in 2013, is accustomed to having to scratch and claw for what he gets. But his hard work and perseverance paid off when he signed a new three-year contract before the start of last season. And now, it's paying off even more as he appears to be the heir apparent to Timmons at inside linebacker.
"I feel like I am ready," said Williams. "I feel like I am going to get better and be more ready as it progresses.
"I have some experience. Anybody that plays a multitude of snaps in the NFL is going to be ready to do it again. It's a different season. Guys are better, more mature now. I am really looking forward to it."
It won't be easy to replace Timmons, though. He led the team in 2016 with 114 tackles in the regular season, adding two interceptions, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, five passes defensed and a forced fumble. He also was one of the team's steadiest players, rarely missing a snap.
"That is a huge role to fill," said Williams, who had offseason shoulder surgery. "Because of his quiet demeanor I don't think he got the credit for being the leader he was. He was just a guy that was the definition of consistency. That is really what he is. You lose a great guy like that, it puts a lot of pressure on me and all of the other linebackers, everybody else has to step up and fill that void."
And Williams plans on doing his part.