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Former Rider Rey Williams aiming for Pittsburgh Steelers roster spot

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REGINA — Rey Williams has a following among the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The same goes for defensive ends John Chick and Stevie Baggs. The trio are involved in tryouts with their respective NFL teams but they haven't been forgotten by their former CFL teammates.

"I keep track of my boys,'' Riders defensive tackle Marcus Adams said after Tuesday's practice at Mosaic Stadium. "I talk to each of them at least once a week. I let them know how we're doing and they tell me what's happening with them. I do it because they are my friends. We're more than teammates. I look at them as my brothers and I want them to do well.''

Those feelings transcend the border between Canada and the United States. Williams is with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he is trying to catch on as a backup linebacker and special-teams player. Chick, the CFL's most outstanding defensive player in 2009, is with the Indianapolis Colts. Baggs is trying to earn a spot with the Arizona Cardinals as a linebacker.

All three left the Riders during the off-season. Williams and Chick took advantage of the option-year window to try out with the NFL teams and the Riders retain their rights. Baggs is a CFL free agent.

Williams has played in two pre-season games with the Steelers and recorded six tackles. Those appearances as a linebacker have mainly taken place in the fourth quarter.

"You have to work your way up the ladder,'' Williams said Tuesday from Pittsburgh. "Anytime you get on the field, you have to put good stuff on the film. It's very meaningful for this team and for other teams in the NFL. You have to make an impression and you don't want to put anything bad on film.''

Williams, who spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Riders, feels he has done that. Whether it means into a spot on the team's roster remains to be seen. NFL teams are to reduce their rosters to a maximum of 75 players on Aug. 31. The final cut to 53 players is Sept. 4.

If Williams does make Pittsburgh's roster, it will likely be as a member of the special teams.

"Around here, you have to be able to do both,'' said the 29-year-old Williams. "They obviously have their starters. You're trying to be a backup but you have to play special teams and to be able to come in when they need you. Most guys in the NFL don't make it through a whole season. They miss a game or two here or there but that's the nature of the NFL.''

Williams is familiar with what NFL teams want. He had stints over three seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers before joining the Riders late in the 2007 season. That experience has helped Williams deal with all aspects of trying out with the Steelers.

"This isn't my first rodeo,'' Williams said. "I'm older now and I don't let all of the excitement bother me like it did in my first year out of college. I remember in my first game we played Oakland and I looked across the field and there were Jerry Rice and Warren Sapp. I had grown up watching those guys play. I'm more mature and more relaxed now. Just like I was up in Canada, I'm trying to get a job. It's a dream to play football but because I'm more mature, I try to handle my side of the game more professionally.''

Chick, who has dressed for two pre-season games, has one tackle with the Colts. Baggs had two defensive tackles and a pass knockdown in Arizona's 24-10 pre-season loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday. Baggs and Chick were both CFL all-stars in 2009.

"I've been trying to catch as many games as I can,' said Riders defensive tackle Keith Shologan. "I watched Stevie play (Monday) and he did some pretty good things. I was pretty happy for him and he's up to his same old tricks. I hope he makes it down there.''

Shologan also feels the same about Williams, who was a defensive force in the 2009 playoffs for the Riders. Williams had 10 tackles and three sacks as the Riders beat the Calgary Stampeders 27-17 in the West Division final. He followed that up with 11 defensive tackles, a sack and fumble recovery in the Riders' 28-27 loss to the Montreal Alouettes in the Grey Cup game.

Chick finished the 2009 season with 11 sacks. Baggs, Montreal's John Bowman and Ricky Foley of the B.C. Lions, tied for the CFL lead with 12 sacks each. Foley is currently with the Seattle Seahawks.

"They all deserve a chance down there because they worked their butts off up here,'' said Adams. "I told Rey when I talked to him to keep on grinding down there. I really want them to do their best.''

Williams said he's willing to return to the Riders if he fails to catch on with the Steelers.

"I loved it there and I wouldn't have had the chance to get back here if it wasn't for that organization,'' Williams said. "I'm thankful for without them I wouldn't be here.''

Shologan said he would welcome Williams back.

"They are great players and I'm sure they could find spots for them on the team,'' Shologan said. "That's up to management but if you get the opportunity, you have to take it.''