The Vikings' new defensive coordinator returns home to Indianapolis this weekend.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Alan Williams spent 10 years with the Indianapolis Colts as a coach for one of the most stable franchises in the NFL for the past decade.
As the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator, Williams returns to Indianapolis this week for Sunday's game between Minnesota and the Colts, he looks around and doesn't see the familiarity with which he was used to during his time in Indianapolis.
"I looked at the sheet and I counted the number of people, and I think it was somewhere between 19 and 22 guys that are still there," Williams said of the 2012 Colts. "So it's changed dramatically in the past few months."
Indianapolis made sweeping changes after last year's 2-14 record.Chuck Pagano was hired away from Baltimore to be the team's head coach. And the most familiar face of all, quarterback Peyton Manning, was replaced by top overall draft pick Andrew Luck.
Each of the team's coordinators are also in their first year with the Colts. Bruce Arians came from Pittsburgh to run the team's offense, and Greg Manusky came from San Diego to be the team's defensive coordinator. Special team's coordinator Marwan Maalouf followed Pagano from Baltimore.
Meanwhile, Williams jumped at the chance to join Leslie Frazier in Minnesota. Through all of the transition, Williams is still interested in going back to Indianapolis. He had been there so long, he even had to catch himself when remembering the game will be played in the Colts' newer stadium.
"It is a homecoming," Williams said. "Ten years is the longest I've been anywhere in my life and it was 10 very good years in Indy. It will be nice to go back and play in, I was going to say RCA Dome, I'd be in trouble, Lucas Oil Stadium, it'll just be on the other side now."
With Pagano and Manusky, two defensive coaches whose backgrounds have been in the 3-4, the old Cover-2 system was gone. Indianapolis, long a 4-3 defense, has moved to more of a hybrid 3-4 defense.
There are four new starters on defense. In the secondary only three players—safeties Antoine Bethea and Joe Lefeged and cornerback Jerraud Powers remain from the group Williams had last year as the team's defensive backs coach.
Of course, with all the changes, Williams can't offer any insider secrets to the Vikings.
"Not a bit," Williams said. "A little bit in terms of the personnel, but in scheme, not one bit."
Sullivan, Winfield miss practice: The Vikings are relatively healthy at this point in the season, with only two players missing Thursday's practice.
Center John Sullivan is dealing with an ankle injury stemming from Sunday's game. He was limited in practice Wednesday and the team held him out Thursday to give the ankle a day of rest. Frazier said he anticipates Sullivan being ready to play in Sunday's game. "We do," Frazier said of Sullivan playing. "Just a precautionary measure, nothing major going on. Just a little bit sore from yesterday's practice, so we gave him some time."
Cornerback Antoine Winfield missed practice to attend the funeral of his brother and Frazier said he will probably return Friday.
Linebacker Marvin Mitchell, safety Andrew Sendejo and receiver Jarius Wright have practiced this week on a limited basis as each returns from ankle injuries. Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), who was limited on Wednesday, practiced fully Thursday. Adrian Peterson (knee), cornerback Chris Cook (biceps) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hip) all were full participants in practice Thursday.
Walsh's kick would've been good from 60: Special teams coach Mike Priefer approached rookie kicker Blair Walsh before his game-tying, 55-yard field goal on Sunday to find out the rookie's range. Walsh told Priefer anything from 60 yards and in he could convert. According to Priefer's son, he was right on.
"My son Wilson was the ball boy underneath the goal post and he came to me right before overtime and said, 'Dad, that was good from 60,'" Priefer said. "So, according to my 14-year-old son, it was good from 60."
Priefer said he knew Walsh's range before he asked, but wanted to gauge how Walsh was going to respond.
"I already knew the answer, I just wanted to see his mindset, basically," Priefer said. "And I was trying to keep my heart-rate down as much as I could at the time because we were all pretty excited at that time of the game."
Walsh said he treats all kicks the same and tries to not let the situation get too big. His attitude showed on the game-tying and game-winning kicks. Priefer believes he has the right attitude to succeed in the NFL.
"He handles it very well," Priefer said. "I think he does a good job with tempering his emotions and he's got a very good mindset for a placekicker in this league."
It's also comforting having a kicker they know can make a kick from 60 yards. All the work Priefer had put in with Walsh early in regards to his timing and approach paid off on the 55-yarder.
"I've told him, 'Blair, you have the leg strength to hit those on a consistent basis. So you don't have to worry about rushing it. You don't have to worry about lunging into it. You don't have to worry about attacking the ball more because you attack it plenty,'" Priefer said. "I think because of all that work and all that training we've had since the spring and talking to him about that same situation, he knew going out there he didn't have to do anything extraordinary because he has the leg strength to do that. That's my point. I think that was probably his smoothest field goal of the day, believe it or not. The others ones, maybe a little bit, we're going to coach off of. That one, I can't find anything wrong with it. That thing was perfect in terms of his technique, the snap was perfect, the hold was perfect, protection was outstanding and it just made it look easy."
No-huddle for Ponder: The Vikings instituted a bit of a no-huddle offense on Sunday, and were pleased with the early results. Quarterback Christian Ponder had an efficient game and seemed to handle the no-huddle situations.
Ponder said Wednesday he enjoys going no-huddle. The team is still implementing pieces and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said the team will use the no-huddle in different situations.
"He's done a nice job with our no-huddle components," Musgrave said. "We have up-tempo no-huddle, we have no-huddle where we want to take the air out of the game a little bit, keep their offense stale on the sideline, fatigue the defense. He's done a good job up to this point in all of those facets of the offense and I think he is comfortable with most of them."
Felton lauded for his game: The fullback hasn't been used much in recent seasons in Minnesota, but Jerome Felton played 54 percent of the snaps on Sunday and was important in the success running back Adrian Peterson enjoyed in his first game back from knee surgery.
"He was a presence out there," Musgrave said of Felton. "He was also a presence on the sideline in terms of being the leader. He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half."