PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Vince Williams wasn't supposed to grow up this quickly.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie linebacker ended up not having a choice.
A season-ending injury to veteran Larry Foote and inconsistent play by Kion Wilson has thrust Williams into a starting role, and while fellow rookie Jarvis Jones struggles to learn the intricacies of Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, Williams is quietly holding his own.
Though defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau cautions it's too soon to make any real judgment on the play of Williams or Jones, who has been demoted to the second string, there's little doubt he's pleased with how far Williams has come.
''I think that Vince is doing a good job,'' LeBeau said. ''He's getting better every week. That's what we're looking for from both of those young guys. They're playing a lot of football for us. The faster they get to be a veteran - we're getting close to the halfway mark, which you can't call them rookies, but they're first-year men. They're both really good men and are working hard. They both are going to be fine.''
Even if at the moment, the sixth-round selection Williams is perhaps a little more fine than Jones, taken with the 17th overall pick.
''(But) I think Jarvis is on schedule for a first-year linebacker,'' LeBeau said. ''I don't think he's further ahead or behind where James Harrison was, Jason Worilds was or LaMarr Woodley was. I think Jarvis is going to be fine. I like to think he isn't either ahead or behind of where a first-year linebacker should be. (And) Jarvis is a playmaker. I've got to find ways to put him in where he can make plays. (So), I'm looking for good things from Jarvis.''
While the Steelers expect and certainly need big plays from Jones, Williams just needs to be steady on the inside. And while there have been some growing pains along the way, Williams has been solid. He's fourth on the team with 37 total tackles, including 23 solo, while Jones has 15 tackles and three quarterback pressures.
''I really feel like I'm getting the hang of it now, and things are starting to slow down a tad for me,'' Williams said. ''I've been getting more reps now, the feel for it is a lot better, and things are really starting to happen for me. So, there's a big difference between my play at the beginning and how I'm playing now.''
The Steelers (2-5) need Williams to continue his growth spurt on Sunday against New England (6-2).
''Coach LeBeau has a very complicated and intricate defense, and it takes a lot to be able to master it and get it down to be able to go out there and perform,'' Williams said. ''It's especially tough for a guy in his first year in the NFL, so it takes a great deal and dedication. But I think I'm getting there slowly, but surely.''
NOTES: WR Markus Wheaton (right pinkie finger), OG David DeCastro (ankle) and CB Curtis Brown (not injury related) already have been ruled out for this week. ... Guy Whimper likely will replace DeCastro in the starting lineup. ''They didn't tell me that yet,'' Whimper said. ''But I've practiced all week like I'm going to start, and I'll be ready if I get the call.'' ... The long list of probable players, includes OG Ramon Foster (concussion), NT Steve McLendon (illness), ILB Lawrence Timmons (hand) and Whimper (knee).
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org