Vikings rookie DT thrust into big role for opener
Ready or not, here it comes for Minnesota Vikings rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
Kevin Williams' right knee injury will keep him out of the season opener against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. That means Floyd will be thrust into a prominent role in the middle of the Vikings defense. The swap is significant, a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the best defensive tackles of his generation for a first-round draft pick who hasn't played in a game since the preseason opener.
''I think he's ready,'' coach Leslie Frazier said Friday. ''He had a good week of practice, hasn't shown any adverse effects from that injury. He's done everything we've asked him to do so we're going to let him go.''
Floyd injured his left knee in the first exhibition game, then had surgery and sat out the rest of the preseason. Williams suffered a bone bruise and hyperextension of his right knee against the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, and worked hard in rehab to try to be ready for the first game of the season. But the 11th-year veteran couldn't quite get there, so he will miss a game because of injury for the first time since 2005.
''It's a little frustrating because I feel good doing the stuff I need to do on the field,'' Williams said. ''I could probably try to play this week, but what's the (point) of trying to do that if I could miss four more after?''
Frazier wasn't ready to name a replacement in the starting lineup for Williams, saying the Vikings will use several players in that spot throughout the game. Floyd, the first of three first-round picks for the Vikings in April's draft, is the odds-on favorite to start.
It's a quick progression for a player who surprisingly slid down the draft board after initially being projected as a top-10 pick. The Vikings jumped on him at pick No. 23, planning to groom him behind Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract.
Floyd impressed coaches throughout the summer with his ability to pick up assignments and techniques quickly, but his development was stunted by his knee injury against Houston a month ago. Floyd just returned to the practice field for the first time this week, but pronounced himself ready handle whatever responsibility the Vikings give him.
''I'm feeling really good,'' Floyd said. ''Knee's fine. Everything's good. I had a good week of preparation. I'm just ready to play.''
Williams was on crutches last week after taking a low hit to his knee from 49ers offensive lineman Joe Looney. But he was up walking around fairly well at the team's headquarters this week and said he expects to be back in the lineup next weekend at Chicago.
''I'm real hopeful for next week,'' Williams said. ''I'd be shocked if I didn't play next week.''
In the meantime, Williams and the rest of Minnesota's veteran defensive line have been trying to help Floyd get up to speed. Floyd said he's been picking the brains of Williams, Jared Allen, Brian Robison and the rest of the unit to prepare himself for his first regular season game.
''I'm a guy that can learn in every way possible that you can teach it,'' Floyd said. ''The first time you tell it to me, it's already instilled. I'm going to get it done. The way I look at it is, if you tell me one thing I'm going to do it to the best of my ability and we can go back over it again and fix whatever else needs to be fixed. But you only have to tell me once. Rarely do you have to tell me twice.''
If the former Florida Gator is overwhelmed by the moment, he sure isn't letting on.
''No butterflies. It's still ball,'' Floyd said. ''It's not going to change over what news you hear. I know if I go through my keys and everything the way I'm supposed to read it, everything will be good.''
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