Little did anyone involved know, but that time would come sooner, rather than later. Foote suffered a biceps injury during the regular-season opener and was put on injured reserve. Williams was behind veteran Stevenson Sylvester and third-year player Kion Wilson, but quickly proved his worth on special teams.
Sylvester was cut after training camp, although he has replaced Wilson on the roster, but Williams has remained steady from the outset. And as the Steelers prepare to face the New York Jets this week, Williams is the club's starting left inside linebacker for the second straight week. While his playing time has increased steadily this season, Williams did not start until Sept. 29 in London.
"I feel real good, and I'm pretty confident about it," Williams said. "Just getting more familiar with the playbook and being able to spend more time with the game has made a big difference for me. I was always confident in my abilities, but I didn't always know which position I would play, the Mack or the Buck. So, now that everything has settled in for me, I feel a lot better.''
Williams has played Foote's Mack position exclusively lately, while rookie Terence Garvin has been the backup to Timmons at the Buck. And Williams clearly has picked up his play since then.
"I played both positions during camp, and I thought I did all right at both," Williams said. "But I knew I could get a lot better. With the way things went down at the beginning of the season, with Larry Foote getting knocked out for the season, I was counted on to make a bigger contribution than just special teams. So, that happened a lot quicker than I thought it would.
"But I think I'm ready for it. And, truthfully, I just kept my head down and worked as hard as I could. So, I didn't notice everything going on around me. I just concentrated on what I needed to do to become a better football player and what I needed to do to make a contribution to this football team. I know this day would come, but I never did know when it would come.
"I only knew that it eventually would happen," Williams added. "So, I always practiced like I was going to be the starter. That mentality, I believe, really helped me. That's why I feel like I'm more prepared than I would have been if I would have constantly thought about playing and what it would be like if I had to start or something like that. So, I just kept my head down and worked."
Under normal circumstances, it's not easy for a rookie to come into the NFL and start, but for one playing in Dick LeBeau's complex defense it's nearly impossible to step in immediately. It took Troy Polamalu more than a year to learn LeBeau's system, and Williams was no different.
"It was extremely hard, to be honest with you, because I came from a more traditional defense," Williams said. "So, coming in here was mind-blowing, with all the fire zones and things that Coach LeBeau likes to do and how Coach Butler expects us to play, but I persevered. It was a lot of hard work, though, because I had stay after a lot for film study.
"And I still have to stay afterward a lot now just to keep up with guys like Troy and Ryan Clark. So, the preparation really never stops. Those guys, Brett Keisel, Lawrence Timmons, guys like that who have been in this defense, they really know how to play it. So, I'm already behind them and to catch up even a little bit takes a tremendous amount of work. But I'm sticking with it."
And, apparently, the Steelers are sticking with Williams.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers vs. Jets: Everything you need to know
- Cowher to call Steelers at Jets game in Week 6
- Steelers release Kion Wilson, sign Stevenson Sylvester
- "Their Life's Work" should be required reading for Steeler Nation
- 5 Burning Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers
- 2014 NFL Draft: Getting familiar with a few prospects
- Heyward over Hood: It's about time
- Ben likes what he's seeing from Bell
- Jets favored by three points