Vince Williams isn't afraid to admit taking over the buck linebacker spot was overwhelming at first. After all, here was a rookie moving into a position where there is a lot on his shoulders, where he had to help set alignments and make calls for defensive teammates who were already in the NFL when he was still in middle school.
"I think the whole process was overwhelming. I didn't really get comfortable until the second part of the season," said Williams. "You have to understand when you are a 23-year old guy and you are standing out there with Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, people who have been to the Pro Bowl, Ike (Taylor) who has been here for 11 years, and (Brett) Keisel, and Lawrence (Timmons) and (LaMarr) Woodley.
"The buck position is a position of leadership. You have to stand out there and communicate with these guys and they listen to you, these are grown men with kids and have had much more success in football than you and you are telling them what to do. It's a little different. There is a long legacy of guys that have played that position for a multitude of years and to be a new guy thrust into that position, it was kind of jarring at first."
Williams settled in just fine though. When Larry Foote initially went down the first week of the season, Kion Wilson stepped in and finished out the game. The following week against Cincinnati Wilson started, but Williams began to get his feet wet playing the position.
"I will never forget the Cincinnati game when I got in there and Keisel was like, 'We like you so we are going with you so don't mess up. Don't make me look stupid,'" recalled Williams. "I was like, 'Okay, let's see how this goes.' It was a brand new experience. I never felt anything like that."
Gaining the trust of the veterans was a key for him, because here he was a sixth round draft pick who admitted he had an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster now moving into a key role.
"I expected to make the team, but it was a struggle," said Williams. "I was a sixth-round guy. I felt like when I came in I had a lot to prove. We had a lot of linebackers when I first got here. We had like 16-17 linebackers. Watching the herd thin out, that was nerve-racking.
"Then, being a rookie and going in and having to earn the trust and confidence of those guys, I think I took tremendous strides in that area."
So much so that by week four of the season Williams started against the Minnesota Vikings and has never looked back.
Williams finished the season sixth on the team in total tackles with 66, 42 of them solo stops. Not bad, but not good enough yet for Williams. He wants more. This offseason he plans to work on his pass coverage abilities, striving to become a three down linebacker, and take it to the next level.
"I feel like I did an okay job," said Williams of his rookie year. "I feel like it's not up to my standard of play. Everybody says you played pretty decent for a rookie, but the standard is the standard around here. I didn't want to do well for a rookie. I wanted to do well for a starting middle linebacker in the NFL."
Williams weighed in on a few other topics, with his thoughts below.
On learning the defense: "Coach (Dick) LeBeau runs a very complicated defense and no matter how old you are, or if it's your first time being in it, he's not going to simplify it for you. You have to do as much as you can in the film room and on the field to learn. They (veterans) helped me a lot, just the intricacies of the defense, how to play in it, how to tweak it, a couple of steps you can change here, a couple of angles you can change there that will help with your production. I love this defense. I feel like the more time I spend with it, the more comfortable I will become with it."
On the Steelers linebacker tradition:"It's an amazing responsibility. On the top floor (of the practice facility) we have that wall of linebackers and when you really look at it and understand what those guys accomplished, just to be among the group of guys that started here at linebacker, you know it says a lot. But it's not finished yet. Those guys had legacies and established careers. I just did one rookie season that was mediocre in a lot of ways. I am just trying to establish a legacy and do something that is really special."
On cornerback Ike Taylor: "I've known Ike since I was 15. I met him and he was like you are going to be pretty good, you are pretty big, have good size and athleticism. When he saw my dedication he said you are going to be really good. I never imagined I would be on the same team with him. Things happen. It really showed him how old he is because he was like, man Vince I was just training with you and now you are playing with me in the same huddle."
On Taylor's workout ethic and his own: "Ike is over the top, but that is the approach he takes to the game. I feel like that is the approach you have to take. I feel like I am over the top. If you are a professional athlete and not willing to give everything you have every day, then you aren't going to have the type of success you are looking for. You don't deserve to have that type of success."
On how much Larry Foote helped him: "He was always there if I needed him. He wasn't on my back or anything like that. But whenever I had a question he was always the first one to be able to answer it. Larry was always there to provide clarity. Larry provides the immediate perception. Larry was there to clear up some foggy windows sometimes."