EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Throughout his 11-year career, the Minnesota Vikings have always known they could rely on defensive tackle Kevin Williams to be in the lineup and be the rock in the middle of the defensive line.
When Williams missed this season’s opener, it was just the fifth game he’s missed in his career and third because of injury. His reliability has been as important as his ability as one of the league’s top defensive tackles during his 11 NFL seasons.
Sure Williams has played through his share of nagging injuries, but he’s nearly always answered the call on game days. His secret?
“I don’t know, maybe being breast fed helps a lot,” Williams said Friday. “Getting the best nutrients you can get. I don’t know, just being blessed, no injuries and I can knock on wood, I’ve been able to do it. I guess the good Lord is going to account to that.”
When Williams suits up and takes his familiar spot along the line on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, he will set a Vikings’ record with his 158th start, passing Hall of Famer Alan Page for the most starts in team history for defensive tackles. Williams will trail only Jim Marshall (270 starts) and Hall of Famer Carl Eller (201) among defensive linemen.
“I hadn’t really thought about it a lot,” Williams said of the honor. “I’ve just been showing up, doing my job and that’s where we’re at. It’s a blessing to be that healthy and to make that many starts. We looked at Jim Marshall, I was like, ‘That’s amazing there, to do what he’s done.’ But not to sell myself short, it’s awesome to be able to start that long and play that well in this NFL nowadays.”
Williams’ durability marks a standout career in which he’s been a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. Williams ranks eighth in Minnesota history with 56.5 career sacks, fourth among defensive tackles.
“A guy like Kevin who has just been so steady for so long in his career, those guys are sometimes hard to find,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “There are guys who can make a splash play here or there, but you can’t always count on them down-in and down-out. And Kevin’s been one of those, once you pencil him into the lineup, you kind of know what you’re going to get every play. You like to make sure that’s happening with all of your guys, but it’s not always the case.”
Williams stands on his own for a team that has a rich history in defensive linemen, including Page and Eller. Defensive tackle John Randle and defensive end Chris Doleman are also in the Hall of Fame. Marshall, who once owned the NFL record for consecutive games played, has his number retired by the team. Four-time All-Pro Jared Allen has lined up next to Williams for the past six years.
The understated Williams has just tried to do his job, something he’s done very well over the years.
“I try to be a hard worker, lead by example and show up in the right spots, be on time and those things like that,” Williams said. “And on top of that, make plays. I felt if you did all those things and been consistent with it, plays will come. I think that happened for the most part in my career.”
Williams, 33, said he could start to feel the wear and tear of the years during last season, but feels “fine” this year. The knee injury he suffered in the preseason has still had him listed as a limited participant in practices, but he said he feels good heading into Sunday’s game at Cleveland.
Williams returned to the lineup last week and helped settle the middle of Minnesota’s defense after a tough performance in Week 1. Williams is an anchor in the run defense and added an interception in the end zone last week off a tipped pass, which tied an NFL record for interceptions by a defensive tackle. Williams has five interceptions to equal former Cincinnati Bengals tackle Dan Wilkinson.
“Just great to see him in uniform being back,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “He’s a guy that I said before that offenses won’t give him anything new. The schemes, he’s seen them. The blocking schemes, he’s seen them before. The situation which this league is, a situational football league, he’s been in before. He brings a calming presence to the group when maybe the situation is not so calming. It’s good to have him back. He played well and I’m looking forward to him maybe picking up some reps this week.”
Williams is in his final season with the Vikings, the final year of his contract in 2014 voided in an offseason restructure that guaranteed his salary for this season. Minnesota drafted Sharrif Floyd in the first round as the likely successor to Williams as the under tackle.
But Williams appreciates being able to spend 11 years with the Vikings and isn’t closing off the possibility of ending his career with the team that drafted him — after the clock famously ran out — ninth in 2003.
“In this day and age with all the guys getting paid and everything, and all the money flying around, it’s huge,” Williams said of staying with the Vikings for 11 years. “I was excited to still be able to be here this year and hopefully can play next year here. I have no intentions of going anywhere else and I would love to finish here.”
Tillman fined for horse-collar tackle: Chicago’s Charles Tillman was fined $15,750 Friday for an illegal horse-collar tackle on Vikings receiver Greg Jennings.
Jennings was heading out of bounds and Tillman brought Jennings down from behind after a 22-yard gain. Tillman was penalized on the play and Minnesota ended up driving for a field goal on the drive.
Ellison listed out, Jennings misses practice: The Vikings declared third-string tight end Rhett Ellison out for Sunday’s game at home against Cleveland. Ellison suffered a hyperextended right knee and didn’t practice all week.
“We’re going to rule him out, give him another week to continue to work with his knee,” Frazier said.
Jennings missed Friday’s practice and Frazier said he was tending to a personal matter but will be ready to play on Sunday.
Kevin Williams (knee) and center John Sullivan (knee) were the only players limited in practice on Friday. Both are considered probable for Sunday’s game.
Defensive tackle Fred Evans (shoulder), linebacker Erin Henderson (heel) and safety Harrison Smith (shoulder) were listed as full participants after being limited earlier in the week. Guard Brandon Fusco (shoulder), tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) and safety Mistral Raymond (shoulder) practiced fully all week. The Vikings listed everyone but Ellison as probable or better.
Cleveland listed quarterback Brandon Weeden out, as expected, with a sprained right thumb and will start Brian Hoyer. Quentin Groves, the Browns’ special teams captain, is out with an ankle injury. Starting right guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle) was limited all week and was listed as doubtful. Starting defensive end Ahtyba Rubin (calf) was limited and is questionable.