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Steelers' Williams Challenges Critics

A critic wonders aloud whether Vince Williams is a three-down linebacker, and Vince has some direct answers.

PITTSBURGH -- The late-May sun was shining and was backed by a gentle breeze as the Pittsburgh Steelers filed off the field following practice.

It all had Vince Williams in a good mood -- until the questions went from bad to worse to just plain wrong.

The starting inside linebacker was left shaking his head by the end of the interview.

Did it bother you the Steelers went looking for a free agent to replace Lawrence Timmons?

"No that didn't bother me. That's the business," said Williams, the fifth-year vet who'll replace Timmons. 

Have you heard the criticism from experts about your ability in pass coverage?

"I don't really care about the rap," Williams said.

Have you heard it?

"I heard it," he said. "People say I can't cover and I'm not a three-down linebacker. But they've never used me situationally. They never said 'Ryan's hurt this week, so Vince you have to go in there and just play first and second down.' I mean, you could just look at the plays I put on tape."

Didn't you run a 4.9 40 coming out of college?

"Nah, my 40 time wasn't a 4.9. But 40s don't even matter, man. You don't have to be the fastest guy in the world to play football. If you're running 40 yards on the football field, obviously somebody just scored on you because you gave up a big play. I think a lot of times people don't take into account what it takes to be a good football player."

He paused. 

"As far as overall sport, I think our fan base and the people that cover us, they're really lacking in what they understand about football."

The fact Williams looked his questioner directly in the eye as he spoke was unmistakable. 

"It's not numbers. It's not how fast a guy can run, how high a guy can jump, measuring levels of athleticism, because this isn't a game that -- this isn't track and field. You have to be a football player."

Are you sure you're not listed at 4.9?

"Man, I'm definitely not listed at 4.9. But, hey, you could just say 4.9 because that makes me look even better, because if I'm running a 4.9 and I get to the ball as much as I have gotten to the ball ..."

Williams paused as another thought struck him. 

"Did it look like I was running a 4.9 when I ran down and smacked Tyreek Hill?" he asked. "How fast was that?"

If Williams was talking about last year's playoff game, when he ran down the field on a first-quarter kickoff and belted the Kansas City speedster at the 12-yard line, he's right. Williams looked like a sprinter. And it may have been the crowning blow of the game, considering the dangerous Hill finished with only 18 yards rushing, 27 yards receiving and averaged only 18 yards per kickoff return that night.

No one's ever doubted Williams' striking ability, or his ability to play the run, or his leadership skills. He's stepped into the starting role on three other occasions to give him 18 career starts. Eleven of those starts occurred in his rookie 2013 season when he replaced Larry Foote and finished sixth on the team in tackles.

In 2014, Williams started three games in place of Ryan Shazier and Sean Spence, and last year he started four games in place of Shazier. Williams made a career-high 15 tackles with a sack in his Week 4 start against the Chiefs last season. He had another sack and a team-high nine tackles the next week against the New York Jets.

As for the disputed stat, his 40 time, Williams was in fact timed at 4.76 at his 2013 Florida State pro day.

"Use 4.9 instead," he said upon hearing the next-day apology. "I'm serious."

Vinnie is one tough egg to crack.

"He's a good guy, especially if you know him," said Shazier. "But you don't want to get on his bad side."

Shazier has been the starting mack inside linebacker since he was drafted in the first round in 2014. He took the playcalling duties away from Timmons late in 2015, marking a departure in protocol since the Steelers have had their other inside linebacker, the buck, calling plays from Levon Kirkland through James Farrior. 

"Ryan's going to call the plays," said Williams, the newest buck. "Ryan wants to call the plays. I have no objection to that. We're both capable of it, but if that's what he wants to do, he's the Pro Bowler."

Williams also says of Shazier, "that's my boy," because the two have been friends ever since Shazier came to Pittsburgh and set up locker right around the corner from the hardened trio of Williams, James Harrison and Antonio Brown

There's a strict policy "on the porch," as Harrison calls the area, that reporters can't enter until Fridays. But Shazier's always been around the corner to handle linebacking questions the remainder of the week.

"Me and Lawrence are pretty close," Shazier said, "but I feel like my relationship with Vince is a little closer. We definitely have chemistry. A lot of times when we're out there, if we're doing something we know how to jump on and catch up to each other really quick. A lot of times we watch film together, even last year we used to watch a lot of film together. When I'm out there, I just say something, he knows exactly what I mean."

So what about those critics, Ryan, those "other reporters" who worry about Williams' ability in pass coverage?

"I've heard a lot of criticism that I'm not a good coverage backer, either," Shazier said. "At the end of the day, it's not about what other people think, it's about what our team thinks. We work on that every day in practice. I've seen Vince in coverage in a few games. He might not get the pick, but he might get somebody else the pick. 

"The thing is, he's a hard-hitting guy and he gets the job done. It might not be as pretty as everybody wants it to look, but if you're getting the job done exactly how it needs to be done and how the team wants it to be done, that's all that matters."

NOTES -- Ultra-quick 5-7, 200-pound running back Trey Williams went down with an apparent knee injury at the end of a carry and limped off the field and into the locker room. ... Le'Veon Bell and Stephon Tuitt were again absent while recovering from surgeries. Ramon Foster was at practice but didn't dress. Sean Davis, Tyson Alualu, Harrison, Cam Heyward and James Conner were dressed but limited.

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