Knowledge could be power for Steelers LB Vince Williams

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

As far as young Steelers inside linebackers go, second year man Vince Williams might not have the credentials of rookie first round pick Ryan Shazier, and he might not be the potential feel-good story of 2012 third round pick Sean Spence. But of the three, Williams is the only one with NFL experience, and his rookie baptism by fire may prove to be more valuable than expected in 2014.

There's something to be said for experience and knowledge, and when it comes to mastering a complicated NFL defense, that may be just as valuable to a young linebacker as athletic ability.

There's much to love about Ryan Shazier, the Steelers first round pick in last month's NFL Draft, and that's especially the case when it comes to athleticism that's almost unheard of for a linebacker--athleticism that includes an ability to leap 42 inches in the air and cover 40 yards in 4.4 seconds.

But if Shazier's speed is hindered by a mind that will no-doubt be filled with rookie thoughts of where to line up pre-snap and where to end up post-snap in Dick LeBeau's very complex defense, he certainly wouldn't be the first.

Same holds true for Sean Spence, Pittsburgh's third round pick in 2012. Like Shazier this season, Spence was expected to contribute during his rookie year and perhaps be the replacement for the legendary James Farrior at inside linebacker.

Unfortunately, Spence suffered a catastrophic knee injury during his final preseason game and is still a huge question mark almost two years later.

Spence has made great strides, but it would be foolish to count on him at this point, still almost two months away from even being able to test his surgically repaired knee in full contact training camp.

And even if Spence does bounce back physically, he, like Shazier, will enter the 2014 season without one single regular season snap under his belt.

Fortunately, the Steelers still have Vince Williams and his unexpected rookie experience in their back-pocket, just in-case.

After veteran Larry Foote was lost for the rest of the 2013 season with an injury in Week 1, the Steelers had little choice but to call on Williams, the team's sixth round pick out of Florida St in the 2013 NFL Draft, to contribute more than they'd probably wanted. But they say life happens when you're planning other things, and Williams wound up starting 11 games and racking up 53 tackles.

Williams obviously struggled enough that Pittsburgh was forced to utilize all-world safety Troy Polamalu in a linebacker role at various  times during the season (a development that no-doubt contributed to the defense's season-long struggles). But Williams did find himself on the field for 406 defensive snaps, and when it comes to that, maybe the experience he gained will allow him to make that all-important first to second year leap.

Considering Williams's draft pedigree and limitations, the leap might not be that far, but if it's far enough that he now knows where he has to line up pre-snap and where he has to wind-up post-snap, he might prove to be an extremely valuable member of the 2014 defense (especially if Spence can't come all the way back from his injury and Shazier suffers through the all-too familiar rookie growing pains).

Maybe for Vince Williams, knowledge really can be a powerful thing.

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