Snapshot: Nick Williams

Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell didn't mince words on draft day when he said of seventh-round pick Nick Williams, "He is not ...

... going to come in here and replace anybody. He is probably not going to play. He is a project."

Well, Nick, congratulations and welcome to the Steelers' practice squad!

And it's not as if Mitchell began blowing smoke at Williams once the coaching process got underway this spring – even though Williams is considered "Mitch's guy."

"Uh, I don't really feel like it," Williams said with a chuckle. "But I like it like that. He's hard on the rookies. He's hard on everybody. I like the way he coaches. He's a great coach. He knows how to get a lot out of you."

Williams played only one year of football in high school and then started two years at Samford, a Division 1-AA (FCS) football program in Birmingham, Alabama.

His coach, former Auburn coach Pat Sullivan, had alerted Mitchell, a former Alabama defensive end, about Williams before Williams recorded 7 sacks as a senior defensive tackle and before Williams went to the combine and at 6-4 ½, 309 pounds ran a 4.94 40 with a vertical jump of 33 inches and a broad jump of 9-3.

Only two other 300-pounders at the entire combine – Terron Armstead and Lane Johnson – topped Williams' 40 and vertical.

At his pro day, Williams put on a little weight and added a little speed. He was timed in 4.86 that day.

"I don't know how many guys you're going to get next year in the seventh round who are going to be 6-4, 320 and can run," said Mitchell. "We took Brett Keisel in the seventh round. Brett Keisel was not 320."

Keisel's still not 320. In fact, the media guide lists him at 285, which might've been his weight after a week-long pasta binge as a rookie back in 2002.

Keisel was the 242nd pick of that draft. Williams was pick No. 223 of this past draft.

"I've reminded him that it's been done, so don't tell me you can't do it," Keisel said. "A big man like that needs to get on special teams, just like I did, and go down and wreak havoc."

And, listen to the coach. That was best advice Keisel gave Williams.

"Brett Keisel told all the rookies it's a mind game, it's a mental game, and Coach Mitch is going to try to get the most out of you," said Williams. "He said, ‘So just keep going, just come here every day and work hard.' Brett Keisel told us to come here every day with the mindset of getting better, and that's what I'm trying to do."

The next day, Keisel stayed after practice to work on technique with Williams and undrafted rookie defensive end Brian Arnfelt.

"They seemed to pay attention," Keisel said. "They feel like everything they do is wrong because that's what your coaches are always telling you, what you're doing wrong. Mitch has a certain style of coaching where he's not going to baby you or pat you on the back, he's going to get after you. That's how he coaches. And it's worked. Aaron's been to the Pro Bowl; Hamp's been to several; I've been to one. We were all nothing until Mitch taught us how to play. These guys just need to keep their head down and keep working."

To that end, the Steelers have given Williams the No. 91 Aaron Smith wore as a starter in two Super Bowl wins. Williams is also playing Keisel's right defensive end position, but on the third team.

It doesn't take a Public Administration degree from Samford – ("If it was in the North it would be an Ivy League school," said Williams) – for Williams to realize he's a long way away from either player's level of performance right now.

"It's coming along well," Williams said. "In college we ran a 4-3. Right here we're running a 3-4. It's a different type of technique so I had to drop everything I learned in college. What I had learned over five years I had to drop and just start all the way back over. But I've got great coaches here. I feel I can get the job done."

Five years isn't so late to the game, is it?

"I've put my time in," he said. "I've put a lot of time in. They think of me as a raw player, but, hey, with the coaches here I can take my game to the next level in the NFL."

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